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Hot Topics: Loan Forgiveness Drives DOs to Primary Care

Jackie Werner Family Medicine, Hot Topics in Research, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

Role of Debt and Loan Forgiveness/Repayment Programs in Osteopathic Medical Graduates’ Plans to Enter Primary Care

Scheckel CJ, Richards J, Newman JR, et al. Role of debt and loan forgiveness/repayment programs in osteopathic medical graduates’ plans to enter primary care. JAOA. 2019;119(4):227-235. https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2019.038.

Context: Osteopathic medicine emphasizes partnering with patients to help them attain or maintain health. This philosophy encourages physicians to practice primary care and a mission of improving community health. However, there is currently a shortage of primary care physicians in many areas of the United States.

Objective: To determine whether intended practice patterns of recent graduates of colleges of osteopathic medicine favor primary care and whether practice patterns correlate with medical education debt.

Methods: Responses were analyzed from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine survey of pending medical school graduates from 2007 through 2016 regarding indebtedness and specialty selection.

Results: The percentage of graduating osteopathic medical students who chose a primary care specialty increased from 28.1% (676 students) in 2007 to 33.2% (1377 students) in 2016. Among graduates, those above the 75th percentile of debt had a general move toward more non–primary care positions, with a value of 74.4% in 2007 and 79.9% in 2016. Graduates below the 25th percentile had a gradual increase in primary care representation, moving from 24.6% in 2007 to 29.4% in 2016. In 2007, graduates with a loan forgiveness/repayment program were more likely to choose primary care over graduates without such a program (OR, 0.681 [95% CI, 0.505-0.920]; P=.02). Analysis of subsequent years showed a declining OR with increasing significance.

Conclusions: Results of this analysis indicated that increased educational debt loan directly influenced physician practice choice. Graduates with high debt burden were more likely to enter primary care fields and use loan forgiveness/repayment programs. Graduates with high debt burden who did not use loan forgiveness/repayment programs were more likely to enter non–primary care specialty fields, with this trend increasing as mean medical school debt increased. This association has implications for policies that could affect choice of primary care. However, further research is needed to fully understand the primary care choice by graduates of colleges of osteopathic medicine.