Persistent shortages of rural physicians have plagued the U.S. health care system for much of the last century. Recent, sharp declines in the number and proportion of U.S. medical students entering primary care have exacerbated this chronic problem because primary care physicians are the foundation of rural health care systems. The article by Chen and colleagues in the current issue of this journal replicates findings of a study 15 years ago by the author of this commentary and his colleagues that demonstrated that a relatively small number of medical schools are responsible for a large share of all of the rural physicians in the country. The lack of progress in the ensuing 15 years is distressing because there is now excellent evidence that targeted rural tracks in medical schools—including selective admissions of students from rural backgrounds and supportive integrated curricula—yield dramatic increases in the number of students choosing rural careers. U.S. medical schools—supported in large part by public funds—have a responsibility to ensure that the specialty choices and practice locations of their graduates meet the needs of the nation at large, as well as the rural and underserved communities in the regions they serve.
Dr. Rosenblatt is professor and vice chair, Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington.
Editor's Note: This is a commentary on Chen F, Fordyce M, Andes S, Hart LG. Which medical schools produce rural physicians? A 15-year update. Acad Med. 2010:85;594–598.
Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Rosenblatt, Box 354696, Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98196; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.