Match Day 2011: Family medicine grows, but enough to save primary care?

Match Day marks one of the most important days in a medical student’s career.

A computer algorithm “matches” prospective doctors with the residency program they’re destined go to.

It’s also a look at the future trends for various specialties.  With a major part of health reform about to be implemented, one naturally gravitates towards primary care, where there currently is a shortage of physicians.

Students who begin their primary care residency in 2011 will graduate in June of 2014, which is conveniently when 32+ million newly insured patients will start looking for doctors to be their primary care physicians.

Here’s the press release from the NRMP announcing the results of the 2011 Match:

Among primary care specialties, family medicine programs continued to experience the strongest growth in the number of positions filled by U.S. seniors.  In this year’s Match, U.S. seniors filled nearly half of the 2,708 family medicine residency slots.  Family medicine also offered 100 more positions this year.

The two other primary care specialties that increased in popularity among U.S. seniors were pediatrics and internal medicine.  U.S. seniors matched to 1,768 of the 2,482 pediatric positions offered, a 3 percent increase over 2010.  In internal medicine, U.S. seniors filled 2,940 of 5,121 positions, an 8 percent increase over last year.

Well, it’s certainly a small step in the right direction.  Although note that you can’t really factor internal medicine match rates into primary care trends, since the majority of internal medicine residents eventually will pursue medical subspecialties.

Even with the growth, less than half of American medical students matched into family medicine, compared to over 90% matching to specialties like dermatology, orthopaedic surgery, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, radiation oncology, thoracic surgery, and vascular surgery. Emergency medicine and anesthesiology also continued to be in high demand, with US medical graduates filling the majority of those positions.

The numbers continue to point to a substantial preference for US medical graduates to choose specialty medicine.  For regular readers of this blog, it’s no secret why: not only a substantial pay gap, but also a disparity in lifestyle, paperwork, and bureaucratic hurdles.

There’s a dire shortage of primary care doctors today.  The 2011 Match doesn’t lead me to believe that there will be a substantial change in that trend going forward.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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