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Health Aff (Millwood). 2013 Jan;32(1):102-10. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0032.

The redistribution of graduate medical education positions in 2005 failed to boost primary care or rural training.

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  • 1National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Washington, D.C., USA.


Graduate medical education (GME), the system to train graduates of medical schools in their chosen specialties, costs the government nearly $13 billion annually, yet there is little accountability in the system for addressing critical physician shortages in specific specialties and geographic areas. Medicare provides the bulk of GME funds, and the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 redistributed nearly 3,000 residency positions among the nation's hospitals, largely in an effort to train more residents in primary care and in rural areas. However, when we analyzed the outcomes of this recent effort, we found that out of 304 hospitals receiving additional positions, only 12 were rural, and they received fewer than 3 percent of all positions redistributed. Although primary care training had net positive growth after redistribution, the relative growth of nonprimary care training was twice as large and diverted would-be primary care physicians to subspecialty training. Thus, the two legislative and regulatory priorities for the redistribution were not met. Future legislation should reevaluate the formulas that determine GME payments and potentially delink them from the hospital prospective payment system. Furthermore, better health care workforce data and analysis are needed to link GME payments to health care workforce needs.

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