'Country Doctor of the Year' Embraces Challenges of Rural Medicine

John Commins, December 4, 2013

Robert Bosl, MD, has for the past 33 years served about 2,500 patients around the town of Starbuck, MN. This annual award recognizes what is right in rural healthcare delivery, but it also inadvertently shows us much of what is wrong.

 

Robert Bosl, MD

Robert Bosl, MD

Since 1992 the physician staffing company Staff Care has honored a Country Doctor of the Year. The award is given to one physician each year, but it could easily be awarded to thousands of dedicated physicians serving rural America.

The award recognizes what is right in rural healthcare delivery. It also inadvertently shows us much of what is wrong.

On the one hand, the Country Doctor of the Year personifies the self-sacrifice of rural physicians. Many of the winners are in their 50s or older and have spend their entire careers serving generations of neighbors in small communities, often working 50 or 60 hours a week or more, in addition to on-call duties.

And that's the problem. Rural healthcare delivery has placed a staggering burden on these physicians, even if they aren't complaining about it. Many haven't had a vacation in years. It speaks volumes that the grand prize for winning the award is a two-week vacation, during which time Staff Care will supply a temporary physician.

The Country Doctor of the Year winners I've interviewed over the years say they do what they do because they recognize the need—that if they don't provide healthcare, it won't get provided. That is a big part of what keeps them going. They genuinely love their work and they get great satisfaction from it. At the same time, many of these docs see themselves as relics and say they don't blame younger physicians for wanting a better life-work balance.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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