Encouraging Medical Students to Pursue Family Medicine

Written by on August 1, 2014 in Insight - No comments

How You Can Help

We have all read the reports: one third of all currently practicing Primary Care Physicians in the US will retire in the next ten years.  By the year 2020, the US will be short 24,000 to 200,000 Family Medicine physicians, depending on the study.  Graduate Medical Training reports a continuing decline for the number of Residents choosing Family Medicine, with the reported ratios of PCPs to Specialists at 30% to 70%, and declining each year.

What exactly causes Medical Students to choose any other specialty than Primary Care?   Is it the long hours or working conditions?  Is it the lack of prestige for this choice, “My daughter, the surgeon,” sounds sexier than “she’s a doctor.”  Or is the issue the differential between the specialist and the PCP income?

MedStudentWEBAs our County Medical Society examined this issue, one fact glared brightest. The high cost of education means that the debt for early career physicians is higher than ever before, and students worry about repayment.  We looked at the local school of Medicine, where the annual tuition is, by design, the lowest in the nation, and saw that the cumulative impact of four years would be over $140,000.  By contrast, each year of Medical School at Duke University is near $82,000, and other State Medical Schools around $45,000 annually.  An Ivy League undergraduate education now costs over $60,000 each year, so that indebtedness from eight years of school could be as high as $500,000 before the student works one day.  If the post-residency/fellowship physician wishes to purchase a home, the physician could be nearly one million dollars in debt before starting to earn income!

In addition, the youngest generation of university graduates is entrepreneurial, with over one third having started a business before completing their senior year.  When the potential Primary Care Physician looks at working in a stand-alone practice and sees the actual reimbursement rates and cost of practicing medicine in 2014, this student is driven towards specialties with stronger income potential.  Currently, specialists are earning twice that of employed primary care physicians, with independent PCP providers earning much less.

Confronted with these projections, the Board of Directors of Pitt County Medical Society in Greenville, NC decided to take action.  Last fall, the Society initiated a new scholarship for the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.  The announcement and first commitments came from the annual dinner, and the next event was a Founders’ Circle reception this spring, where the first recipient was introduced.  Immediately there were twenty donors, and the donor list continues to grow through group communications and direct ask.

Organizing a scholarship is fairly straightforward.  Your first task is to inspire your friends, colleagues, and other interested parties to join with you.  When you communicate your own passion and commitment, you will generate passion and dedication in your favorite people, and they will become your ambassadors to their colleagues as well.

Here are the decisions to make:

  1. Which 501(c )3 will administer your scholarship?  (Universities will set up a fund for your donations by request; each has different guidelines, but they can take care of this for you.)
  2. For how many years do you want to support a student? Is it for one year or renewable throughout the scheduled education?
  3. What will be the criteria for selecting the recipient (please remember EEOC requirements)?
  4. How often do you want to give the Scholarship?
  5. Do you want to have a minimum donation level, or a “naming rights” level?

The Foundation or other agency that administers your scholarship will know how to screen and choose applicants based on your selected criteria.  They will also send acknowledgement letters for tax purposes, but you and your group will also send short notes of thanks to the donors.

After interest has been assessed, each $10,000 given through the scholarship will reduce the impact of the loan by nearly $27,000 over a maximum-term loan.  You may add to your criteria that the student expresses an interest in Family Medicine; please also consider mentoring the students you choose.

Of course you should have fundraising events, but for this purpose, think small in numbers and large in dollars! Arrange to have several intimate gatherings, preparing the attendees to think about their commitment to the future of medicine in your state or location.  Be sure that those who present are passionate about Medicine and about shepherding the future generations of physicians.

You have the power to change the future, by making it possible for students to become the next generation of doctors.

As a personal note, if you are shy about asking your friends to support your cause, just remember:  you already have 10 friends who would give you $100 or $1000 if you requested it, without any explanation or promises.  Won’t these same friends give you this much or more with the cause where your passion thrives?

By Tricia Maddrey Baker
Executive Director
Pitt County Medical Society

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