Encouraging Medical Students to Practice in Underserved Areas

By Christy K. Boscardin, PhD; Doug Grbic, PhD; Kevin Grumbach, MD; and Patricia O’Sullivan, EdD

Students in the PRIME (Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved) program are on a five-year track at the UCSF School of Medicine and the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. All of these students are committed to working with urban underserved communities.

More than 35 million people live in medically underserved areas in the United States, and by 2020, there will be a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians, mostly in areas that are already underserved. Christy Boscardin, PhD, and her colleagues from UC San Francisco and the American Association of Medical Colleges wanted to find out if there was something medical schools could do to alleviate this. So they analyzed data from 7,000 students at more than 100 medical schools, that included variables on the students’ characteristics, as well as their educational experiences, to see what factors were associated with medical students’ intention to practice in underserved areas.

They found that educational experiences during medical school have a significant reinforcement effect, as well as a positive influence on the practice intentions of medical students, but individual student characteristics also play a role. The study suggests that medical schools can help to alleviate the physician shortage in underserved areas through targeted curriculum interventions and student recruitment.