Fewer Family Doctors Being Seen

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Many people grew up with a family doctor. But the number of medical students choosing family medicine is on the decline. So why are physicians in training are steering clear of this time-honored specialty?

Your child's sore throat or a persistent cough is normally handled by your family doctor. Many are considered part of the family, people who have watched their patients grow up and have families of their own.

Now this doctor-patient relationship may be in jeopardy.

A doctors group predicts a number of states will experience a shortfall of family physicians by 2020. The main reason is money.

"Physicians in training who might have gone into primary care are attracted away to other specialties because they can make more as a physician in a specialty," said Dr. David McClellan, the program director of the Brazos Valley Family Medicine program.

McClellan says once medical students graduate they have an enormous amount of debt they want to pay off. Specializing in something else rather than family medicine helps them to do that.

Dr. Robert Wiprud agrees. "Technical specialties and procedural specialties are reimbursed higher than primary care specialties," he said.

As associate professor at Texas A&M University's Health Science Center, Wiprud has already seen the decline.

"We used to get actually state wide awards from the Academy of Family Physicians that we would have upwards of 25 percent chose family medicine and primary care careers and it has fallen fairly dramaticly in recent years," Wiprud said.

Both these doctors know growing populations will raise demand for primary care doctors, they are working to make sure the need is met.

Dr. McClellan says medical programs could use help from the government to increase funding to family and primary care residency training programs.

Family medicine hopeful student Eric Alford thinks that would help.

"A person can't think of a career that's more rewarding than family medicine," he said. "Because of the spectrum and contiguity of care that you see."

It will be students like Alford who will try to help fill the nation's growing prescription for family doctors.