Social mission as a way to train more primary care doctors

Medical schools are traditionally ranked on criteria like research funding and technological innovation. These rankings are highly significant. A place on the US News‘ annual Best Medical School list  is a coveted spot indeed.

So that’s why there was some media attention paid to a recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, which ranked medical schools according to their “social mission” — a phrase that defines a school’s commitment to primary care, underserved populations and workforce diversity.

Using this new criterion, some of the traditionally high ranking schools fell significantly.

In other words, schools that received a lot of grant money — thus propping their rankings in US News — did not allocate as many resources to primary care, sullying their social mission score.

As the New York Times’ Pauline Chen writes, “Grant money and the security it affords individuals and institutions drive institutions to emphasize research, sometimes at the expense of other urgent but less lucrative endeavors.”

With the primary care shortage at the forefront, and surely to get worse as health reform covers millions more Americans, it’s time to give schools the incentive to churn out more primary care doctors.

Maybe US News can incorporate a variation of the “social mission” into their rankings, for instance. Knowing how important these lists are to schools, it could be an impetus to divert more money to primary care training programs.

Furthermore, the ACP’s Bob Doherty suggests that politicians take notice if schools don’t: “If medical schools won’t re-examine their priorities on their own, aren’t they inviting politicians to force change – by shifting funds to schools that have a better primary care track record?”