Fact or Fiction? 4 Assumptions About Rural Physician Jobs


Demand for physicians in rural areas has never been greater. According to the AAMC, 20% of the US population lives in rural areas, but only 11% of physicians work there — and that figure is likely to decrease. Due to a projected increase in physician retirements, the number of practicing rural physicians will decrease by 25% by 2030. Additionally, the number of medical school students from rural areas is steadily declining, meaning the group most likely to practice in rural areas is shrinking.

As the Regional Vice President of Recruiting for Jackson Physician Search, Western Division, I often speak to physicians who are hesitant to consider rural practice opportunities. They have preconceived ideas about what life in rural medicine may be like, but the reality is not necessarily what they assume. In most cases, rural physicians earn competitive compensation, have a healthy work-life balance, and experience greater autonomy than their urban and suburban counterparts. They also have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of patients, who often have limited access to healthcare.

Keep reading to find out if some common assumptions about rural physician jobs are fact or fiction.

Rural vs. Remote Physician Jobs

Before addressing the common assumptions about rural physician jobs, it’s important to note that the term “rural” can be defined in a number of ways. The Health Resources and Services Administration uses a combination of definitions to determine which organizations are eligible for rural health funding. A community with a population below 2,500 is considered rural, but rural can also describe a town with up to 49,999 people if the area is not attached to a larger metropolitan area. 

It’s important to understand the definition of rural that is being used when discussing rural physician jobs, as the opportunities and challenges of working in a rural setting can vary depending on which definition of “rural” is being used.  For example, a “rural physician job” might refer to a family medicine physician serving as the sole provider for a remote community of 2,000 people. However, it might also refer to a general surgeon at a regional hospital in a town of 30,000. While both of these are “rural physician jobs,” the lives of each physician will be considerably different. Often, the fears physicians have about rural jobs may be legitimate concerns in smaller, remote areas but are less likely to be true in other rural communities. 

Assumption #1: Lack of Amenities in Rural Physician Jobs

One of the most common concerns I hear from physicians about practicing in a rural setting is that they will not have access to the same amenities they are used to — good schools, popular stores, quality restaurants, etc. While these things may be harder to come by in truly remote locations, many rural communities have a variety of popular chain stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and public and private schools. However, it is true that some rural communities may not have as many options as urban areas. 

On the other hand, rural communities often make up for not being as commercialized with outdoor recreation and beautiful scenery. Many nature enthusiasts find rural physician jobs ideally situated near parks, rivers, mountains, etc., which are perfect for fishing, rafting, hiking, or skiing.  

Fact or Fiction? While there may be some truth in the assumption that rural communities have fewer amenities, it largely depends on the size of the community, proximity to other towns, and availability of transportation, i.e., an airport. It is important to do your research and visit the community before making a decision about whether to work there. Many times, physicians considering rural opportunities are surprised by the variety of options for shopping, dining, entertainment, and education. 

Assumption #2: Rural Physicians Never Get a Day Off

Physicians are often concerned that, as the sole provider of care in the community, they will work around the clock. The truth, however, is that rural physicians often have better work-life balance than urban physicians. A joint rural physician recruitment study from Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com reported 46% of rural physicians said “improved work-life balance” was one of the top factors influencing their decisions to work in rural medicine. 

In most rural jobs, call is shared among multiple physicians. Even in remote areas where one physician may be the sole provider of care, administrators recognize the need to provide support in the form of an advanced practice provider or locum. Regardless, physicians should review the contract and confirm there is a limit to how many days per month they are expected to be on call.

Fact or fiction? This assumption is largely fiction. Rural physicians often work at a slower pace, see fewer patients per day, and have more control over their schedules. Preventing burnout is a high priority for rural administrators, so they usually do whatever is needed to ensure physicians have a healthy work-life balance.    

Assumption #3: Rural Physicians Have a Broader Scope of Practice

Physicians often correctly assume that practicing in a rural setting means they must be comfortable providing a wider range of services than they might see in an urban setting. Rural physicians are often the first point of contact for patients of all ages dealing with a wide variety of medical issues. In an urban setting, a provider might be quick to refer patients to a specialist for specific conditions. However, in a rural setting, there may be fewer specialists available, so rural physicians must be able to treat a wider range of conditions.

This can be a challenge, but it also presents an opportunity for rural physicians to gain experience and expertise in a variety of areas. Rural physicians must be able to think critically and make decisions on their own without the benefit of immediate access to specialists. They must also be able to work closely with patients and their families to provide comprehensive care. As a result, rural physicians often have closer relationships with patients and their families. They may have more opportunities for community involvement and a greater ability to make a real difference in the lives of their patients.

Fact or fiction? This truth about rural medicine presents a growth opportunity for physicians at any stage of their careers. Because there are fewer specialists in rural areas, primary care physicians practice at the top of their licenses, which would be less likely in an urban setting.

Assumption #4: Compensation is Extreme in Rural Physician Jobs

Ideas about rural physician compensation vary, but they tend to be extreme. Some have heard about huge bonuses and loan repayment and think all rural physician jobs come with big compensation packages. Others tend to think that, without the high volume of patients seen by urban physicians, rural jobs won’t have the same earning potential. In this case, the truth lies somewhere in between. 

Indeed, many rural jobs come with sweeteners such as signing bonuses, housing assistance, or loan repayment. Rural health organizations are eligible for government-funded grants that can be used for these purposes. Additionally, individual physicians may also be eligible for government-funded loan repayment programs when they work for qualifying organizations. 

As for patient volume and income potential, this can vary depending on a number of factors. Volume may be lower, but rural physicians have little to no competition for patients. According to a 2022 study by the Medical Group Management Association, the median annual compensation for physicians in rural areas was $207,210, compared to $200,000 for physicians in urban areas. 

Fact or fiction? The idea that rural physicians always earn significantly more or less than physicians working in metro areas is fiction. However, overall, rural physician compensation is competitive with urban physician compensation. In addition to higher salaries, rural physicians may also be eligible for recruitment incentives such as large sign-on bonuses, housing assistance, and loan repayment. When you consider the lower cost of living in rural communities, the overall financial picture for rural physicians is very attractive. 

The Rewards of Rural Physician Jobs

Practicing rural medicine is not without challenges; however, the rewards may carry more weight. Rural physicians often earn higher salaries, enjoy a better work-life balance, and experience more autonomy than their urban and suburban counterparts. They also may feel more professional fulfillment as they are stepping up to provide care in the communities that need it most.

If you are interested in learning more about the challenges and rewards of rural physician jobs, the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search is eager to assist. Reach out today to learn more, or start searching for rural physician jobs online now.


About Helen Falkner

As the daughter of a physician, and an Iowa native, Helen has witnessed firsthand the impact that a great physician can have on a community. She joined Jackson Physician Search at the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, GA, as an entry-level Research Consultant in 2012. Through her consistent success as both an individual contributor and manager, Falkner progressed quickly to Partner in 2018 and assumed her role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for JPS’s Western Division in October of 2020. In January 2021, she relocated to the firm’s Denver office and leads a team of successful physician recruiters while actively continuing to recruit for her clients.


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Job Search Considerations for Psychiatrists and Other Mental Health Providers


With just one year left of her psychiatry residency, Dr. P. knows it’s time to start laying the groundwork for her psychiatry job search. She realizes that psychiatrists are in high demand, but of course, she doesn’t want to accept just any job. She has scrolled through enough psychiatry job boards to know that the options are plentiful, but how should she focus her psychiatry job search to ensure it’s a good long-term fit? And how can a physician recruiter assist her in her search?

As a Regional Vice President of Recruiting for Jackson Physician Search, Western Division, I regularly receive inquiries like this from proactive residents starting their job searches. I always congratulate them for starting early and encourage them to take the time to carefully consider what they are looking for in their first physician job. Psychiatry is a specialty in high demand, and while job opportunities may be plentiful for providers like Dr. P, it’s still important to conduct a thorough search to find the best job for her needs.

With an abundance of mental health job options available, the psychiatrist who has a clear understanding of what he or she wants in a job will be better equipped to focus his or her search and increase the likelihood of finding a good long-term fit. Psychiatrists and other mental health providers must carefully consider several factors such as practice setting, the patient populations and conditions they are most interested in treating, and of course, what kind of work-life balance they need to maintain their own mental well-being.  

An Abundance of Mental Health Jobs

 The demand for mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and advanced practice providers, has been increasing steadily due to the rising rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. At Jackson Physician Search, as highlighted in our recent whitepaper on Physician Recruitment Trends, we have seen a significant uptick in the demand for mental health providers. Our mental health placements–including psychiatrists, psychologists, and advanced practice providers specializing in mental health–increased by 85% from 2020 to 2022.

The need for psychiatrists is increasing, but the number of psychiatrists in the market is not keeping pace. In fact, physician age demographics suggest it may be shrinking. According to the AAMC, in 2021, 61.6% of active psychiatrists were over the age of 55. So, more than six in ten psychiatrists will reach retirement age in the next eight years. The incoming wave of psychiatrist retirements, coupled with increasing mental health issues, suggest demand for mental health providers will remain strong.  

Takeaway: There will be no shortage of job opportunities for mental health providers. Knowing what kind of job you want will help you to narrow your focus so you can find the mental health job that suits you best. 

In-Person or Telehealth Mental Health Jobs?

Like most specialists, psychiatrists and other mental health providers have the flexibility to practice in a variety of settings such as, inpatient hospital jobs, outpatient clinics, telehealth, schools, assisted living facilities, addiction medicine centers, and more. Unlike most other specialties, however, a great deal of patient care can be delivered via phone or video call.

While telehealth was possible pre-pandemic, the COVID-19 shutdown increased adoption at unprecedented rates. This was especially true in psychiatry and radiology. Even as most physician offices re-opened for in-person visits, many psychiatrists opted to stay “virtual.” In many cases, telehealth is more convenient for both doctors and patients. However, hospitals still require in-person evaluations by psychiatrists, and some patients still prefer to see a psychiatrist face-to-face. As a recruiter, I often encounter candidates who exclusively want to work via telehealth, which can further narrow an already shrinking candidate pool and increases the demand for those willing to work in a traditional setting.

Takeaway: Decide early if you prefer to work remotely or in-person. If you are willing to work in-person, what is your preferred practice setting? Once you know what you want, you can pursue those opportunities that interest you. Because demand for in-person providers is so high, many organizations are willing to compromise on compensation and/or flexibility in order to secure an in-person psychiatrist. 

Work-Life Balance for Mental Health Providers

While an increasing volume of mental health patients offers job security, it also means psychiatry jobs can be extremely demanding, depending on the expectations of the employer as well as one’s own productivity goals. Psychiatrists who pack in as many patients as possible may earn higher incomes but at what cost to their own mental health? 

Physician burnout is increasing among physicians of all specialties. In a 2022 joint Jackson Physician Search and MGMA study, 65% of physicians reported having feelings of burnout, compared to 61% in the 2021 survey. Of those who reported feelings of burnout in 2022, 75% said their burnout was worse than it had been the previous year. 

While psychiatrists are not among the specialists reporting the highest levels of burnout, their levels of burnout are increasing. In Medscape’s annual survey on physician burnout, the percentage of psychiatrists reporting feelings of burnout increased from 35% in the 2020 report to 47% in 2023

In addition to the typical causes of physician burnout–administrative burden, long hours, lack of autonomy, etc.–psychiatry and other mental health jobs can be especially taxing emotionally, so it’s important to set boundaries with employers that protect your work-life balance and allow time for self-care.

Takeaway: When evaluating mental health job options, consider the culture of the organization and what priority it places on provider mental health. Because mental health providers are in such high demand, most employers will be as flexible as possible to meet your needs. A four-day work week, seven on/seven off, or even three weeks per month are not unusual schedules for psychiatrists.   

It is an exciting time to enter the mental health field as jobs abound and patients have never been in greater need. However, with multiple options to consider, psychiatrists and other mental health providers need to weigh several factors carefully when searching for a job. Beyond the standard considerations such as location, compensation, practice setting, and organizational culture, psychiatrists may have more options to choose from, such as remote work, schedule flexibility, and expanded scope of practice. Choices are currently abundant for mental health providers, and with the right planning and foresight, there’s no reason you can’t find a psychiatry job that meets your needs.

Whether you are a resident seeking your first psychiatry job or an established mental health provider pursuing the next step in your career, the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search can help you assess the mental health job market in your target location and help you determine next steps. Reach out today or start your psychiatry job search online now.

About Helen Falkner

As the daughter of a physician, and an Iowa native, Helen has witnessed firsthand the impact that a great physician can have on a community. She joined Jackson Physician Search at the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, GA as an entry-level Research Consultant in 2012. Through her consistent success as both an individual contributor and manager, Falkner progressed quickly to Partner in 2018 and assumed her role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for JPS’s Western Division in October of 2020. In January 2021, she relocated to the firm’s Denver office and leads a team of successful physician recruiters while actively continuing to recruit for her clients.


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