Panel treats primary care

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In an effort to expose medical students to career opportunities in primary care, the UA College of Medicine will celebrate National Primary Care Day today.

The idea for National Primary Care Day originated from medical students who wanted to raise awareness of general practice, correct misconceptions that might prevent students from choosing careers in primary care and highlight the efforts medical schools are making in these areas.

"I'd like to see some of the misconceptions dissolved," said Gregg Tolliver, medical student coordinator. "I think most students see primary care as gatekeepers and that in general, they are going to be underpaid and that it's frustrating."

Four local primary care physicians will host a panel discussion to dispel these beliefs.

Family practitioner and UA alumnus Carlos Gonzales said there are too many specialists and not enough primary doctors.

"Too many doctors succumbed to the glory of the money in sub-specialty work," he said. "For the longest time, sub-specialty was glorified at the expense of primary care."

Results from a 1993 national Association of American Medical Colleges survey of medical school graduates showed more than 19 percent planned to practice primary care, the first increase in more than a decade. The 1992 survey showed only 14.2 percent interest in practicing primary care.

Gonzales, a family practictioner in Patagonia, Ariz., said a national reorganization of medical education is necessary to fulfill the need for primary care providers.

"I remember as a third or fourth year student, I was told I was too smart to go into primary care," he said. "As long as professors have that attitude, it's going to be hard to recruit."

But Gonzales said the benefits of recruitment would not be seen for another eight to 10 years.

"It's going to be awhile before we are going to see a change in the effects of a long term neglect," he said.

Although National Primary Care Day was nationally recognized on Sept. 29, the UA postponed activities until medical students were finished with midterms.

Tolliver, who said he is looking forward to a career in primary care, also sees interest in his classmates.

"By the year I graduate, I wouldn't be surprised if at least 40 percent go into primary care," he said.

Following a half-hour video presentation from former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the panel will discuss opportunities in primary care and the state's need for those physicians.

"I hope they will address issues that are of concern to them, and prove that it is worthwhile to be a physician," Tolliver said.

Panelists include Gonzales; Dr. George Comerci, pediatrics field; Dr. Ellen Michalowski, obstetrics and gynecology; and Dr. Alan Rogers, internal medicine. Medical students from Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University will also be attending the presentation.

"Primary care is definitely going against the grain," Tolliver said. "It definitely was for them (the panelists)."

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