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Physicians Offer Insights on Practicing Rural Medicine

By HealthLeaders Media Staff  
   April 02, 2008

In addition, almost half of those physicians who had practiced rural medicine said that they either preferred rural life more (30 percent) or that life was about the same regardless of where they lived (16 percent).

Even with the possibility of a heavier call schedule, many rural doctors still enjoy more personal and family time because they aren't spending one to three hours each day getting to and from work.

Myth #3: You can't possibly know enough. (You'll be isolated and "in over your head" professionally.) The shortage of providers in rural areas often makes it easier for early-career professionals to get a job, set up private practice, advance in their careers, and "network" through statewide professional societies, according to a qualitative study highlighted in the December 2006 issue of the National Rural Health Association's Rural Roads magazine.

Many respondents to LocumTenens.com's survey agree. Here's what they had to say:

  • "The connectedness between components of the care delivery system is closer and easier to navigate in rural areas."
  • "Practicing in a rural area is more immediately gratifying. Many patients return, as do their friends and family members, and you build a relationship over time."
  • "Medicine in rural practice is clinical medicine. In an urban setting it is defensive medicine."
  • "As a radiologist, it has been much easier for me to meet and get to know the clinical referring docs in a rural area. The threat of litigation is, in general, much lower. Rural patients are more appreciative of good medical practice and service than more demanding city dwellers."

Facing lifestyle concerns
So what's not to like about practicing rural medicine? Industry observers note that today's physicians are more concerned about leading balanced lives than their predecessors were. Based on more than 600 physicians' responses regarding what they like and dislike most about rural medical practice, physicians fear being more isolated professionally with fewer resources and career options in rural practice. Personally they fear having less privacy and fewer entertainment options than they would in larger metropolitan areas.

Spousal influence also plays a role in physicians' decisions about where to practice. Career opportunities for spouses; good schools for growing families; and access to cultural attractions, plentiful shopping and other entertainment options factor heavily into many physicians' decision-making processes about where to practice.

Attracting physicians to rural medicine Physicians need more exposure to rural practice options and opportunities. Among more than 600 physicians who said they had no rural healthcare experience, 29 percent indicated they never had been offered a position in a rural area, 25 percent said they just never considered it, and 33 percent said they'd never found the right opportunity.

Here are four steps toward attracting more physicians to rural America and keeping them there:

  1. Rural communities must market the lifestyle advantages of rural medicine and offer creative benefits focused on making that lifestyle more attractive to physician recruits. The inherent advantages include:
    • Slower pace of life
    • Greater feeling of safety for self and family
    • Less traffic and pollution
    • Shorter commutes
    • Equivalent or higher net income
    • Lower housing costs
    • Less competitive lifestyle
    • Closer proximity to outdoor recreational opportunities
    • Elevated status in community
  2. More medical schools need to develop 'rural practice tracks' in their curricula to expose students firsthand to rural medicine.
  3. Rural residents need to align themselves regarding the critical importance of maintaining healthcare services in their immediate areas.
  4. Financial incentives--some offered through the federal government--are critical.

David Roush is president and chief operations officer of LocumTenens.com, a physician recruiting firm.
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