Background: This study was conducted to compare the practice locations and characteristics of physicians who participated as medical students in an extracurricular program to foster interest in careers of service to medically underserved populations with those of their classmates who did not participate in the program. Methods: Using a mailed questionnaire, we conducted a cross-sectional study of graduates from the classes of 1983-1987 at one southwestern, public medical school. All Commitment to Underserved People (CUP) participants (n = 94) and a random sample of nonparticipating classmates (n = 188) were surveyed. CUP is an extracurricular project with components in each of 4 years of medical school that provides peer and faculty support, curriculum enrichment, and direct service to medically underserved populations. Outcome measures included the size of community of practice, practice type, and practice patient characteristics. Results: Sixty seven (71%) of CUP participants and 126 (67%) of nonparticipants responded. CUP participants were more likely to be women, to specialize in family practice, to practice in the Indian Health Service (IHS) or overseas, to be located in a community of 25,000 or less, and to have participated in the state, service-payback loan program. In multiple regression, the specialty of family practice was associated with practice in a small community, the IHS, and a community health center; CUP participation was correlated with practice in small communities, the IHS, and a foreign country. Conclusions: Participation in the CUP program was associated with the specialty choice of family practice and with practice in settings associated with medically underserved populations. The CUP program has been successful in sustaining entering medical students' interests in underserved practice.
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