First-year medical student Matt Grossi, right, receives instruction from Dr. David Keegan in an exam room on Wednesday. ((CBC))

The medical school at the University of Calgary hopes some real-world experience will draw more students to family medicine.

A new mandatory program will require first-year medical students to shadow a family physician for five half-days throughout the year.

This year, 170 students have been partnered with doctors.

The students are practising basic medical skills like taking a patient's history, listening to heart and lung sounds, recording blood pressure and seeing how a doctor interacts with patients.

The program was developed by family doctor David Keegan, the undergraduate education director in the university's department of family medicine.

"Before they've made decisions, they have a chance to truly experience family medicine and see what it's like as a career," Keegan said. "We've had a huge amount of support from the medical school [and] from community family docs that have all come together to make this course happen."

'So far, I've been really surprised and impressed with family medicine.' — Matt Grossi, medical student

Keegan said the health-care system can't function properly without enough primary care physicians.

But the number of students entering the field has been steadily declining.

In 2008, fewer than 20 per cent of med school graduates at the U of C went into family medicine. The school would like to get that ratio up to 50 per cent.

Matt Grossi is a first-year medical student who is more than halfway through his job-shadow course.

He said he isn't yet sure what area of medicine he wants to focus on but believes the hands-on experience will keep family medicine on his and other students' radar.

"So far, I've been really surprised and impressed with family medicine," said Grossi. "It's really attractive for me to see how much patients actually do trust their doctors and how many things the doctor does get to do and see."

Grossi said he admires how family doctors are able to establish close relationships with their patients.