Community Health Centers Struggle with Shortage of Family Physicians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 1

Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224 


WASHINGTON, DC — Community health centers across the country remain in dire need of family physicians to ensure patients in underserved areas have access to health care, according to a report in the August issue of American Family Physician.

The report, a one-pager titled “High Demand, Low Supply: Health Centers & the Recruitment of Family Physicians,” was based on data from 2016 survey of community health centers. The survey showed that seven in 10 community health centers reported vacancies for family physicians and that family physicians comprise nearly half of all community health center physicians.

“In addition, 51 percent of health centers indicate that filling a family physician vacancy is their highest priority,” write report authors Caitlin Crowley, MPH, a Robert Graham Center research partner and former research analyst at the National Association of Community Health Centers; Michelle Proser, PhD, MPP, director of research at the NACHC; and Andrew Bazemore, MD, MPH, director of the Robert Graham Center. “Two-thirds of centers rate family physician vacancies as ‘very difficult’ to fill and, those with FP vacancies report spending an average of 11.4 months recruiting for FPs, one of the longest periods of time reported for any clinical vacancy.”

Such shortages can deprive people in underserved areas of access to medical services, according to Robert Graham Center data. More than 62 million Americans have inadequate or no access to primary care as a result of physician shortages. Community health centers meet the need for care in geographically and economically underserved areas, according to NACHC Community Health Center Chart Book( Nationally, they provide care to one in 10 children, one in six rural Americans, one in three people living below poverty and two in 10 uninsured patients.

Crowley and her coauthors call for policymakers and planners to focus on programs that create community-based training for physicians “in order to ensure an adequate supply of family physicians will be available to staff health centers and the vulnerable populations they service.”

Among those programs are teaching health centers. Developed under the Affordable Care Act, teaching health center residency programs are highly successful in recruiting new physicians into primary care and into practicing in underserved areas, according to research at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Their data show that nine in 10 teaching health center graduates remain in primary care practice and three out of four choose to practice in underserved communities. Four out of 10 teaching health center graduates practice in community health centers.


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.