Choosing Primary Care: Factors Influencing Graduating Osteopathic Medical Students

Katherine M. Stefani, OMS III, MPH; Jesse R. Richards, DO; Jessica Newman, DO; Kenneth G. Poole, Jr, MD, MBA; Shannon C. Scott, DO; and Caleb J. Scheckel, DO
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: June 26, 2019

Accepted: July 15, 2019

Published: June 1, 2020

J Osteopath Med; 120(6): 380-387

Context: Access to primary care (PC) improves health outcomes and decreases health care costs. The shortage of PC physicians and shifting physician workforce makes this an ongoing concern. Osteopathic medical schools are making strides to fill this void. Considering the critical need for PC physicians in the United States, this study aims to identify factors related to choosing a PC specialty.

Objectives: To understand possible motivations of osteopathic medical students pursuing a career in PC specialties by examining the role of sex and the influence of 5 key factors in this decision.

Methods: Responses from the annual American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine graduate survey (2007-2016) were analyzed. Self-reported practice decision considerations of 5 key factors, including (1) intellectual and technical content, (2) debt level, (3) lifestyle, (4) prestige/income level, and (5) personal experience and abilities were summarized, and their subjective value was contrasted between osteopathic medicine graduates pursuing PC specialties vs those pursuing non-PC specialties.

Results: The mean percentage of graduates pursuing PC and non-PC specialties from 2007 to 2016 was 31.3% and 68.7%, respectively. Women were 1.75 times more likely to choose PC than men (95% CI, 1.62-1.89). Regardless of specialty choice, lifestyle was the most important factor each year (1027 for PC [75.3%] vs 320 for non-PC [63.3%] in 2016; P<.0001). Students entering PC were more likely to report prestige and income level to be “no or minor influence” compared with students entering non-PC specialties (P<.0001). Debt level was more likely to be a “major influence” to students choosing to enter non-PC specialties than to those entering PC (P<.0001), and the percentage of non-PC students has grown from 383 in 2007 (22.9%) to 833 in 2016 (30.6%).

Conclusions: Sex was found to significantly influence a graduate’s choice of specialty, and female graduates were more likely to enter practice in PC. Each of the 5 survey factors analyzed was significantly different between students entering PC and students entering non-PC specialties. Lifestyle was deemed a major influencing factor, and responses suggested that debt level is a strong influencing factor among students pursuing non-PC specialties.

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