Perspective: Creating the Next Generation of General Internists: A Call for Medical Education Reform
The United States is faced with an increasing shortage of physicians in the primary care workforce. The number of medical school graduates selecting careers in primary care internal medicine has fallen dramatically since 1985. Although political, financial, and organizational reform of the medical system is necessary, these changes will address only part of the problem. Endeavors designed to ameliorate this current crisis in primary care practice must also address the education and training of future primary care internists. Learners require specialized training in primary care internal medicine to be able to provide high-quality, patient-centered, outcome-oriented care. This article examines the impact of educational interventions in undergraduate medical education (UME) and graduate medical education (GME) on primary care internal medicine career choice and makes suggestions for future educational changes. Suggested UME changes include providing early longitudinal clinical experiences and providing the option for an integrated ambulatory third year of training. Suggested GME changes include early, sustained exposure to general internal medicine and differentiated training tracks for residents interested in primary care. Key among these changes are that medical students and residents must have adequate mentorship from primary care internists and clinical experiences in highly functioning primary care settings established as patient-centered medical homes. Academic centers have a unique opportunity to contribute to these imperatives by reengineering the practice of primary care in a way that embodies the core values of effective, patient-centered care.