The WSJ 's medical health blog talks about general surgeon being the primary care docs for surgery and echoes the thoughts of several bloggers ( see here ) for one who inform us that the ranks of the general surgeon is decreasing much as the primary care docs are seeing refuge elsewhere and for much the same reasons.
Back in day when I was an internist in training we thought about the general surgeon as the other group of "real docs",we internists were the really real docs, all jokes about surgeons notwithstanding.OK, we should have included peds but I think we meant that when someone was "really sick" you would need an internist or a surgeon or both. They would take care of the horrible surgical abdomen patients regardless of what the cause.Perforated bowel, leaking aneurysm,gall bladder, ruptured appendix-all were within their area of expertise. In the strange now forgotten "system" under which we trained the first year medical resident was called to evaluate patients in the area of the hospital that was sort of an ER and sort of a triage out patient area. From time to time there would be a dispute as to whether the patients was "surgical" or "medical". In some of that encounters I would find myself completely out manned facing off with a senior surgery resident who had by that time endured some 4 or 5 years of post MD degree rigorous surgical training. I still admire the skill , confidence and medical expertise of those folks and what they went through to obtain that experience and expertise as I did in practice when I called a general surgeon at 2:00 am .
Fewer freshly minted internists go on to do primary care as more and more become sub-specialists or hospitalists and fewer rookie surgeons go on to do general surgery as more and more do sub-specialty fellowships. Money,control of one's practice and "life style" concerns appear to be the major culprit drivers in this shift as third party payers continue to squeeze the purses and tighten the controls and drain the joy out of being a physician.
I think back attending sick patients and calling in a general surgeon to help sort it out (and sometimes fix it and often follow the patient with me though an often complicated and challenging course in the hospital) and wonder who will be available to play those roles should I be on the other end of the stethoscope and knife. Emmylou Harris's song comes to mind.