B. Primary Care Focus

      Increasing access to primary care services has been frequently cited as an important component of an overall strategy to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health status. Access to primary care services is the proverbial “ounce of prevention” that all too frequently is lacking in poor, underserved, and minority communities. The need for additional primary care physicians is a *90 chronic problem in many pockets across America. The absence of a sufficient number of primary care physicians means that scores of people do not have a regular source of health care and do not receive critical preventive health care. The challenge is most acute in minority communities. For instance, one study focusing on California documented that non-Latino whites have the highest percentage of generalist physicians per 100,000 people. Non-Latino whites have ninety generalist physicians per 100,000, whereas Latino, African American, and Asian residents have 52, 61, and 68, respectively.

      Studies demonstrate that minority physicians are substantially more likely to choose a primary care practice specialty than non-minorities. For instance, data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) regarding practice patterns of minority graduates of American medical schools indicated that African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian medical school graduates were significantly more likely to be practicing primary care medicine than non-minority medical school graduates.

      Another team of researchers, led by Dr. Raynard Kington, who is now Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, reviewed the literature in this area and concluded:

       Strong, compelling evidence suggests that minority physicians are indeed more likely to provide precisely those services that may be most likely to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities, namely primary care services for underserved poor and minority populations. It is the opinion of the authors that the strength of that evidence alone is sufficient to support continued efforts to increase the numbers of physicians from underrepresented minority groups.

      Given the chronic shortages of health  care providers in so many of these communities, increasing the number of racial and ethnic minorities graduating from health professions schools is an effective and critical strategy for expanding access to primary care health services in underserved communities.