WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- Despite a shortage of U.S. primary care doctors, less than 25 percent of new doctors go into this field, and fewer still work in rural areas, researchers say.
Lead study author Dr. Candice Chen, an assistant research professor of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said the study also found only 4.8 percent of the new primary care physicians set up shop in rural areas.
"If residency programs do not ramp up the training of these physicians the shortage in primary care, especially in remote areas, will get worse," Chen said in a statement. "The study's findings raise questions about whether federally funded graduate medical education institutions are meeting the nation's need for more primary care physicians."
Chen and colleagues studied the career paths of 8,977 physicians who had graduated from 759 medical residency sites from 2006-08. Three to five years after the program ended, the researchers found 25.2 percent of the physicians worked as primary care doctors, although this number almost certainly was an overestimate because it included graduates who practiced as hospitalists, Chen said.
In addition, the researchers found 198 out of 759 institutions produced no rural physicians at all during the study period.
Currently, the United States is producing primary care physicians at rates that are "abysmally low," Chen said.