BACKGROUND: There is increasing evidence that a strong primary care is a cornerstone of an efficient health care system. But Switzerland is facing a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs). This pushed the Federal Council of Switzerland to introduce a multifaceted political programme to strengthen the position of primary care, including its academic role. The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview of the situation of academic primary care at the five Swiss universities by the end of year 2012.
RESULTS: Although primary care teaching activities have a long tradition at the five Swiss universities with activities starting in the beginning of the 1980ies; the academic institutes of primary care were only established in recent years (2005 - 2009). Only one of them has an established chair. Human and financial resources vary substantially. At all universities a broad variety of courses and lectures are offered, including teaching in private primary care practices with 1331 PCPs involved. Regarding research, differences among the institutes are tremendous, mainly caused by entirely different human resources and skills.
CONCLUSION: So far, the activities of the existing institutes at the Swiss Universities are mainly focused on teaching. However, for a complete academic institutionalization as well as an increased acceptance and attractiveness, more research activities are needed. In addition to an adequate basic funding of research positions, competitive research grants have to be created to establish a specialty-specific research culture.