Purpose: To examine individual-level and medical-school-level factors, including the school’s primary care culture, that are associated with medical students’ likelihood of practicing primary care.
Method: In spring 2010, the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies invited all fourth-year medical students at a stratified random sample of 20 U.S. MD-granting medical schools to participate in an online survey examining factors in specialty choice decisions. Schools were stratified according to the historical percentage of their graduates who became practicing primary care physicians. Multilevel logistic regression modeling was used to determine which individual- and school-level characteristics significantly predicted students’ likelihood of practicing primary care.
Results: Of the 2,604 students invited, 1,661 (64%) responded. Of the 1,554 students with complete data on variables of interest, 207 (13%) planned to enter a primary care residency and stated they were “very likely” to become a primary care physician on completion of training. Students who attended schools with high reported levels of “badmouthing” primary care were less likely to practice primary care (OR, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.4–0.9). Attending a school where students had greater than the median number of positive experiences in primary care clerkships increased the likelihood of practicing primary care (OR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.1–2.3). Overall, 8% of the total variation in a student’s likelihood of practicing primary care was attributable to school-level factors.
Conclusions: Although individual students’ characteristics and preferences drive specialty choice decisions, the prevailing primary care culture at a school also plays a role.