Entering her final year of a Family Medicine Residency, Dr. P has an attractive offer from a rural practice in Nebraska. She’s been heavily recruited by the organization, and they have a lot to offer — loan assistance, a signing bonus, and, from the sound of it, a high degree of autonomy. She’s hesitant, though. She grew up in the Midwest, but the remote, rural community where the job is located is very different from her hometown outside of Kansas City. How does she know if rural medicine is the right fit for her?
While the nation increasingly feels the impact of the physician shortage, the problem is familiar in much of rural America. The latest numbers show that while nearly 20% of Americans live in rural areas, just 10% of physicians practice in those communities — and that number may be shrinking. According to an article for the Association of American Medical Colleges, the increasing volume of physician retirements will cause the number of practicing rural physicians to 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.
In response, rural healthcare organizations have adapted their recruitment strategies, finding ways to differentiate and highlight the benefits of rural physician jobs over those in urban and suburban areas. Rural organizations often offer signing bonuses, competitive salaries, and loan assistance or repayment programs. Beyond the financial benefits, practicing rural medicine often means treating a wide range of conditions and practicing at the top of one’s license. It can also mean more independence and a better work-life balance.
Rural physician jobs offer many advantages, but they are not guaranteed to be the right fit for everyone. In my role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for the Midwest region, my team and I regularly recruit physicians for rural opportunities, and I’ve identified several factors that indicate how likely a candidate is to succeed in a rural position. If you have ever wondered if rural medicine might be for you, keep reading for five qualities you need to thrive in rural medicine…
Able to Confidently Work Within the Full Scope of Specialty
Rural physicians will be the first point of contact for a broad range of cases. With few specialists in the area, rural physicians must be confident practicing at the top of their licenses. This can be an intimidating prospect for newly trained physicians who are used to having an attending physician nearby. This doesn’t mean early-career physicians aren’t qualified to work in rural medicine. However, if you are interested in practicing in a rural area, seek a rotation with a rural hospital and embrace every opportunity to treat a wide variety of cases.
Must Be a Team Player
Though rural medicine can be isolating, physicians are still part of a broader team and must be willing to make sacrifices for that team. Even the solo practitioner may need to answer phones or draw blood at times if his or her office manager or nurse is out for the day. Members of a care team must be willing to cover each other’s patients and take additional call at times in order to give team members time off. Rural physicians shouldn’t see themselves as better or more important than other members of the team. They must understand that while rural healthcare often means a slower pace and better work-life balance, there will be times when they will need to step up and do more.
Part of being a team player is being adaptable and able to go with the flow as needed. This quality is essential for physicians in rural practices, where when something doesn’t go as planned, it is up to the physician to chart a new course. Physicians who are comfortable with change and can easily switch gears will be well-suited for rural medicine.
From specialist consults to 24-hour lab results, rural physicians often don’t have access to the resources typically available to physicians in urban areas. Physicians who thrive in rural medicine must proactively seek solutions and find creative ways to address challenges. Without a long chain of command and documented protocols for every scenario, physicians must think outside the box and be resourceful in solving problems.
In smaller, rural towns, physicians are often looked to as leaders in the community. Physicians most likely to thrive in rural healthcare embrace the role of community leader. They enjoy speaking at town events, hosting the ribbon-cutting ceremony, or being the grand marshal of the local parade. Rural physicians must be comfortable with the overlap of personal and professional life, understanding that small-town living means they are likely to run into patients at the grocery store or out to dinner, and they should be prepared to engage with patients at any time. In a small town, if patients perceive the physician to be standoffish, it can significantly impact the success of his or her practice. The most successful rural physicians embrace small-town life and are eager to step up as leaders.
Rural physician jobs have many benefits that appeal to physicians at every stage of their careers. However, practicing rural medicine is not for everyone, and it’s important that physicians considering rural healthcare opportunities know what it takes to be successful. First and foremost, rural healthcare candidates must be adequately trained to practice confidently at the top of their licenses. Additionally, physicians most likely to thrive in rural medicine should be team players, adaptable, resourceful, and ready to embrace small-town life.
Are you interested in pursuing opportunities in rural medicine? Contact the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search to find out if one of our current positions is right for you. Reach out today to learn more.
About Tara Osseck
With more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Tara Osseck specializes in matching healthcare organizations with physicians who are a strong fit for the role and the culture. Her healthcare career began as a physician liaison. It quickly expanded to include physician recruitment, strategic planning, and business development, working for various hospitals throughout Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Based in St. Louis, Osseck leads the firm’s Midwest Division, placing providers across the Midwest and Upper Midwest. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a master’s in health care administration and management from The University of Memphis.