Last Friday, March 15th, was “match day”–the day when medical students who are preparing to graduate find out where they have been matched for their residencies. It’s an interesting process. The medical students identify one or more specialty areas and rank their top programs–the places they’d be interested in spending the next several years continuing to hone their skills. At the same time, the residency programs at hospitals all across the country rank the students they’re interested in hiring. The “match” then sorts out the process in an effort to give everyone (the physicians and residency programs) their highest ranked option, moving down the list as slots are filled.
From the most recent match data, we know that out of the roughly 47,000 applicants, roughly 1 out of 4 matched into primary care residencies, including internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine. This is an increase from last year, and marks the fourth year of increases in the primary care workforce. But the demand for primary care physicians continues to grow at a faster rate than we are able to produce them. One estimate suggests that we will experience a growing shortage of primary care physicians over the next decade, reaching a shortfall of 65,000 by the year 2025.
The Affordable Care Act makes some modest changes to increase the amount primary care physicians are paid, and it will take some time to realize the full impact of these policy changes, but for now, even the good news isn’t quite good enough, and the money isn’t going to training the primary care physicians, but is used to provide incentives for graduates to enter the field with more lucrative incomes once they enter into practice.