You know how difficult it can be to recruit physicians for rural positions. Attracting and retaining well-trained physicians to work in rural America is an ongoing struggle: 77% of rural counties are facing a shortage of primary-care providers, and 8% don't have even a single primary-care physician, according to a report from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy.
The federal government has taken numerous steps to address the ongoing rural recruitment and retention challenges. The National Health Service Corps, for example, was created to provide scholarship and loan-repayment programs for MDs and DOs practicing in underserved rural and urban areas.
Forget many solo practices opening up in rural America. For most physicians, the idea of hanging out their own shingle no longer holds any appeal. According to a survey of doctors-in-training in their final year of residency by physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, just 2% of residents prefer a solo setting as their first practice. Among the reasons cited, the required investment (for things like electronic health records and new insurance payments) is too high. Physicians are happy to let a medical group or hospital handle the business of medicine.
Long workweeks for doctors are a thing of the past, too. Today, physicians log 51 hours per week on average—a 10 percent decrease from a decade ago, according to Henry M. Sondheimer, M.D., Association of American Colleges senior director of medical education projects.
Physicians want what we all want—a work/life balance—and their career satisfaction is more about lifestyle than salary. Working in a rural community, where there are fewer stressors like traffic and plenty of opportunities for recreation, can improve a physician’s work/life balance. Rural America is less crowded. The rural life offers a great environment to raise children. The rural life offers a great sense of community. And while many communities offer loan repayment programs for physicians, the cost of living for the rural life is generally lower, too.
What’s the primary reason many physicians cite for becoming a doctor in the first place? As unimaginative as it sounds, they want to help people—and nowhere are physicians needed more than in rural America. For physician recruiters, that means there is a physician out there for every rural job. These physicians serve some of society’s most vulnerable patients and they need physicians. Period.
Many rural hospitals are finding innovative ways to adapt to the changing healthcare environment and most cite a strong sense of community as a factor in their success. Winona Health, for instance, joined with Winona State University in Minnesota to create a support network for chronically ill people who were frequent visitors to the emergency department. The result? ED visits fell 91 percent and readmission rates declined by 94 percent.
If you’re recruiting candidates for rural assignments, use Doximity Talent Finder to search where physicians attended college or medical school—or completed their residency. If it was a rural area, they’re more likely candidates for those positions. Keep your sights on organizations like the National Rural Health Association, too. The NRHA brings together hospital staff, rural medical educators, rural health clinic personnel, health practitioners, state and federal agencies, and other rural health enthusiast who are all dedicated to improving health care in rural America. Among its many programs, NRHA has launched a plan to prevent further rural hospital closures—which USA Today reports serve as many as 10,000 people.
The traditional view of rural practice is changing and recruiting the right physicians for these positions has to change, too. Do physicians want to work in rural America? The answer might surprise you. The Mayo brothers started in the cornfields of rural Minnesota. Who knows where the rural life might take your physician candidates?
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