America’s heartland is starved for doctors. Physician recruiters know getting doctors to live and work in rural areas is a chronic problem, and the growing physician shortage is making it even more difficult.
There are about 6,000 federally designated areas in the U.S. with a shortage of primary care doctors. Rural areas have about 68 primary care doctors for every 100,000 people – compared to 84 doctors in urban areas (per Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). Put another way, about one fifth of Americans live in rural areas, but barely a tenth of doctors practice there.
The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) says, “The obstacles faced by healthcare providers and patients in rural areas are vastly different than those in urban areas. Economic factors, cultural and social differences, lack of recognition by legislators and the sheer isolation of living in remote areas all conspire to create health care disparities and impede rural Americans in their struggle to lead normal, healthy lives.”
One of the common misconceptions regarding rural medicine is the belief that physicians are paid significantly less in rural settings, when in fact, states in America’s heartland pay well relative to other places. Average salaries for specialists in Minnesota and Indiana, for example, are 13% above the national average, and Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota are among the highest paying states. As many recruiters know, the big cities don’t always pay the biggest bucks. Per Doximity’s Physician Compensation report. The most desirable cities where people like to work, e.g., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., are among the lowest paying. In fact, the average salary for primary care physicians in D.C. ranked last, coming in 17% below the national average.
What’s a physician recruiter with jobs in rural America to do?
The career satisfaction for physicians is more about lifestyle than salary, so we suggest you lead the conversation with work/life balance. Working in a rural community, where there are fewer stressors like traffic, combined with plenty of opportunities for recreation, can absolutely improve a physician’s work/life balance. Rural America is less crowded. The rural life is a great opportunity to raise children. The rural life offers a great sense of community. And while many communities offer their own loan repayment programs for physicians, the rural life’s cost of living is generally lower, too.
A small town may not come with all the traditional benefits of larger towns, but surrounding cities may fit the bill. Also, physicians who have rural roots are your best bet because they're most likely to consider a rural practice. We also suggest you talk to other doctors living and working in rural areas and ask them to help you showcase it from their perspective. Truly selling the community can create a sense of belonging. We outlined ways to approach this in an earlier article: Selling the community to physician candidates: why a sense of belonging can seal the deal.
You can also lead the discussion with misconceptions about pay. There’s an overview of the Doximity’s first physician compensation report here, or you can download the full report at the end of this article.
Last, think about the primary reason many physicians cite for becoming a doctor in the first place. They want to help people. And nowhere are physicians needed more than in rural America. For physician recruiters, that means there is a doctor out there for every rural job. They serve some of society’s most vulnerable patients who need physicians. Period. What’s more, in terms of the spectrum of disease encountered, rural medicine is the most challenging and stimulating kind of primary care medical career out there. If you are the only doctor within a wide radius, people will come to you for help, rather than try to pick the appropriate out-of-town specialist to diagnose their problem.
There are still a lot of doctors who want to live and work in our great small cities and towns.
Advocates for rural practice say improvements in technology can help physicians connect more quickly and frequently with colleagues and specialists elsewhere, making them feel less professionally isolated.
Doximity is the largest social network in medicine and you’ll find great candidates for your rural positions using Doximity Talent Finder. Claim your free trial today, or to learn more about physician compensation, click the button to download the full Doximity Physician Compensation report.