Why Does the ACGME Want to Eliminate Contraceptive Training for Family Physicians?
In one of the clinics where we work, a 16-year-old girl came in with a sprained ankle. She left with a prescription for birth control.
This turn of events is not as surprising as it seems: As family physicians, we treat the whole person. A quick update revealed that our 16-year-old patient had recently begun to have unprotected sex -- and had no plan to get birth control. One of the reasons we love practicing family medicine is that we get to know our patients over time and provide the preventive care they need at every possible opportunity.
That is why we are dismayed that the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has proposed changes to the guidelines for family medicine residency programs removing the requirement that residents learn to provide contraception. These changes will go into effect in 2014 unless the ACGME is convinced otherwise, during an open comment period taking place this week.
A majority of U.S. women get their basic health care from a family physician or other primary care provider, and often that includes reproductive health care. Especially in rural and low-income areas, family physicians do it all! They not only provide birth control but also provide prenatal care, deliver babies, manage miscarriages, counsel patients about unintended pregnancies, and, increasingly, offer pregnancy termination so that their patients do not have to travel long distances and see unfamiliar doctors for these services.
ACGME's motivations are legitimate: It seeks to simplify the rules for the nation's family medicine residency programs -- numbering over 450 -- and to allow for more creativity and flexibility. In some areas of practice, this makes sense. Many programs will continue to teach contraception; it will depend on the culture of the institution. However, residency programs based in religiously-affiliated hospitals (which operate nearly 20 percent of inpatient community-hospital beds in the U.S.), will most likely drop birth control training immediately.