'Fauci effect' diminishes as infectious diseases specialty yields low interest

New physicians are largely dodging the infectious diseases specialty, with 44 percent of ID programs left unfilled after the latest specialty fellowships Match Day on Nov. 30, NPR reported Dec. 12. 

At the University of Washington in Seattle, which has one of the nation's top-ranked ID programs, administrators scrambled to find candidates for two spots that were still open after the match process 

"It feels unsettling," Paul Pottinger, MD, director of the university's infectious diseases fellowship training program, told NPR. "Typically, we match our full eight slots on the first go."

Boston Medical Center, affiliated with Boston University, didn't have any of their three positions filled this year. 

The specialty for years has struggled to recruit physicians. In 2016, recruiting hit a low with 57 percent of ID programs left unfilled. It's been somewhat more stable in the last five years, with about 65 percent to 70 percent of training programs filled. The exception was 2020, when the speciality saw an influx of applicants and a record match rate, which many attribute to the "Fauci effect," or a renewed interest in the specialty given how much COVID-19 and infectious diseases were spotlighted. 

Still, the temporary pandemic boost is not enough to sustain interest, given the specialty's long-term struggles. Many infectious disease physicians cite significantly lower pay compared to other specialties, despite additional training, and long hours as key factors deterring new physicians from pursuing the specialty. 

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