Not long after Keeley Hobart started medical school at Texas Tech University in 2011, she joined a federally funded program that allowed her to finish school one year early and receive a scholarship equal to a full year of tuition.
The caveat: the program's curriculum focused exclusively on preparing medical students to become family physicians, one of the lowest-paid specialties in medicine.
For Hobart, the decision to apply for the program was easy. She always wanted to be a family medicine doctor. “It was a good opportunity to get through medical school faster,” she said.
Texas Tech's admissions officers look for students for the Family Medicine Accelerated Track who eventually want to practice in small towns, which face a shortage of qualified doctors willing to locate in their communities. The FMAT program has graduated 31 students since its inception in 2011.
All of the graduates have begun or completed residencies in family medicine, but not all have gone on to serve in rural communities. That's true for many of the academic physician-training programs created in recent years to bolster primary care.
Experts say there are several reasons hampering the government's efforts to increase the ranks of new physicians entering primary care and family practice. The financial burden of carrying staggering student debt pushes many new doctors toward higher-paid specialties. That's reinforced by a culture in medical schools that still encourages specialization, which often takes longer training, attracts the most ambitious students and holds greater societal prestige.