In some ways, the scene was reminiscent of the Academy Awards without the red carpet. There were sealed envelopes, tears, speeches and stories told in pictures.
Morehouse School of Medicine students Jason Payne, Charisma Manley and 52 others broke the seals on letters that revealed where they will spend the next three to five years in residency training.
They were among some 6,300 fourth-year medical students from across the nation matched — about 300 more than last year — in primary care fields. Doctors of internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine are seen as key in controlling chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that drive up U.S. health care costs.
According to Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, dean and executive vice president at Morehouse School of Medicine, 96.3 percent of MSM seniors received a match. Of those, 67 percent matched in primary care and core specialties, a testament, Rice said to “us identifying students who are aligned with our mission, which is to work in under-served areas and have a high affinity for primary care.”
At the Medical College of Georgia, nearly 40 percent of its 190 graduating seniors matched in a primary care specialty, said Dr. Peter Buckley, MCG’s dean. About 20 percent of those students will remain in Georgia for their first year of residency, he said.
For people like Harriett White and her husband A.J., who had to wait months before they could see a primary care doctor, the numbers are encouraging.
“Hooray,” she said laughing. “That’s really good.”
When she and her husband moved back to Marietta in 2011 to be closer to their granddaughter, White said they quickly discovered primary care physicians in the area were either not taking more patients or had waits up to six months.
Match Day, she said, might signal better days ahead.
Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, expressed concerned about graduates who did not match to residency training positions.
“While we are waiting to learn the exact number of unmatched students, the reports coming from our member medical schools are cause for significant concern and demonstrate the urgent need to increase federal support for graduate medical education,” Kirch said.
To avert the coming shortage, a projected 90,000 physicians nationwide by 2020, “We need to begin today to increase the overall supply of physicians in this country by lifting the cap on residency training positions.”
“Inaction will only mean extensive shortages of both primary care physicians and a wide range of specialists,” Kirch said
Producing more primary care physicians has long been a top priority at Georgia’s medical schools.
“We are committed to relieving the chronic shortage in primary care doctors in Georgia,” Buckley said. Toward that end, the Medical College of Georgia is working with the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, which is collaborating with hospitals across the state to develop some 400 new residency physician training positions.
Rice said that conventional wisdom once held that newly minted doctors gravitated toward training positions in high-income specialties because of the huge debt associated with medical school.
“It is a factor, but it is not the top factor, which is lifestyle,” she said. “They want to be able to control their schedules, to have more life balance.”
For Payne, Manley and fellow classmates Stephanie Olds and Samantha Hill, the opportunity to help prevent and manage chronic disease in their community was huge.
Olds said she always knew she’d go into internal medicine and not even a load of debt could change that.
“Watching my grandmother who suffered from hypertension and diabetes, I place high value on being able to not just provide medication but lifestyle modification for patients,” she said.
Olds, 25, said her grandmother ultimately died of stage four ovarian cancer without ever feeling comfortable talking to her doctors.
“She’d come home from the doctor and ask me to look up information about the medication, something her doctor should’ve addressed,” she recalled.
Hill and Payne each chose pediatrics because their goal is to prevent disease before it develops. She will be at the Alfred I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Willimgton, Del., and Payne will be at the Medical University of South Carolina. Manley will complete her residency in obstetrics gynecology at MSM.
Because her mother is a practicing pediatrician in Fayetteville, Manely said she was keenly aware of the need for both African-American and primary care physicians.
“It was very attractive to us to specialize because our student loans are so burdensome,” she said. “We chose instead to follow our passion, to wake up in the morning and be excited about what we’re doing.”
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