School of Medicine ranks No. 2 in ratio of graduates who enter family medicine

October 28, 2013

By David Martin

Wendy Biggs, M.D.

The University of Kansas School of Medicine ranks No. 2 in a study of medical schools' production of graduates who go into family medicine.

The American Academy of Family Physicians conducts an annual census of the medical school graduates who enter family medicine residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education. The authors of the study, now in its 32nd year, create a three-year rolling average to determine which medical schools consistently graduate a higher percentage of students into family medicine.

The University of Kansas ranked No. 2 on the list, with 20.8 percent of its graduates in family medicine residencies. East Carolina University is No. 1, with 20.9 percent of its graduates in family medicine residencies.

In the United States, only 7.8 percent of graduates of M.D. programs enter family medicine.

The University of Kansas is also leader in the raw number of students entering family medicine. In 2012, KU led all M.D.-granting medical schools with 39 of its graduates entering family medicine.

"Educating a 21st century health care workforce for Kansas is our primary mission," Douglas Girod, M.D, executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center and interim executive dean of the School of Medicine, says. "One of the best ways to meet this mission is to continue to teach and nurture students who want to become excellent family physicians in their communities."

Family medicine is a medical specialty devoted to comprehensive health care for people of all ages. Along with general internists and general pediatricians, they provide what is called primary care, which is considered crucial to an effective and efficient system of health care.

The United States faces a shortage of primary care physicians. The Council on Graduate Medical Education, which assesses physician workforce trends for the U.S. Congress, has said the current physician workforce is in jeopardy because medical school graduates are not going into primary care in numbers sufficient to replace retiring physicians. Most young doctors are drawn to subspecialties, which offer better compensation and often more manageable work hours.

The KU School of Medicine is trying to help alleviate the shortage of physicians who enter primary care. In 2011, the school opened a new campus in Salina and expanded the M.D. program at the Wichita campus to a full four years. The expansions increased the number of first-year KU medical students from 175 to 211.

In addition to larger class sizes, the KU School of Medicine works to identify and encourage students who are interested in primary care.

During the admissions process, Kansas residents and applicants with strong Kansas ties are given priority consideration. Pipeline programs, such as the Primary Care Workshop and the Scholars in Rural Health program, introduce students to the rewards and challenges of primary care before they begin their medical education. The state-funded Kansas Student Medical Loan program helps pay the debt of medical school graduates who agree to provide primary care in underserved areas of Kansas.

Joshua Freeman, M.D, the Alice M. Patterson, M.D. and Harold L. Patterson, M.D. Professor and Chair of Family Medicine at the KU School of Medicine in Kansas City, says medical schools need to work harder to balance the ratio of primary care providers and specialists. "In the current environment of reduced student interest in primary care, it is important to identify the reasons that some schools have been able to be more successful than others and, hopefully, to replicate their success," he says.

The study of medical school graduates entering family medicine residences appears as a special article in the October issue of the journal Family Medicine. The lead author is Wendy Biggs, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the KU School of Medicine. Biggs was the deputy director of medical education at the American Academy of Family Physicians before joining KU, where she is the director of the family medicine residency program in Kansas City, in May 2013.

Biggs says medical students are more likely to go into family medicine if they are exposed to patient care in settings outside of a teaching hospital, where specialists predominate. "At many large academic health centers, students do not get to see before they have to choose their future specialty how family physicians provide full-scope health care out in the community," she says. "I think environment and culture play a substantial role in specialty selection."

In additional to its regional campuses and the Scholars in Rural Health program, the KU School of Medicine provides students with several opportunities to learn alongside community-based physicians. These experiences include a required four-week rotation in a rural area during the fourth and final year.

Last modified: Nov 12, 2013