Perspective: The Unintended Consequences of Training Residents in Dysfunctional Outpatient Settings

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In the past 25 years, academic leaders and accreditation bodies in internal medicine and pediatrics have made multiple efforts to increase residents' exposure to ambulatory primary care medicine, to bring hospital-based residency training more in line with the career paths of graduates. Current proposals continue the trend of increasing ambulatory exposure through providing more clinical hours in the outpatient setting as a pedagogic strategy to improve residents' practical skills in providing quality care in outpatient settings. Resident clinics, however, are often understaffed and dysfunctional. Under these circumstances, the work environment encourages some residents to learn only that providing high-quality primary care is a frustrating and unrewarding form of labor. Leaders in medicine have used innovative organizational strategies to improve residents' outpatient experiences. Model primary care residency programs and clinics have been created. The diffusion of model primary care clinical practices and structures is, however, limited by the strain of generating sufficient clinical revenue to run an academic medical center efficiently and reliably in the current environment. Increased outpatient exposure, without attention to the quality of practice settings, is potentially counterproductive, generating an unintended consequence that is the opposite of the goals of policy: it may reinforce residents' interest in subspecialty practice.

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