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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How to Prepare for the Impact of Rural and Urban Physician Retirements



Industry leaders are bracing for a wave of rural and urban physician retirements. According to demographics compiled by the AAMC in 2021, 46.7% of physicians were over 55. This means nearly half of all physicians will be at retirement age in eight years. But, of course, age isn’t the only factor driving retirement. In the recent Jackson Physician Search physician retirement survey, 24% of physicians cited burnout as the most likely reason for retiring– more than those citing lifestyle changes (23%) or achieving financial stability (22%).

Healthcare leaders nationwide are concerned about the impact these retirements will have on their organizations and the communities they serve. Still, of course, not all organizations will be impacted to the same degree. Data from HRSA and cited by Rural Health Information Hub found 68.5% of physicians in rural areas were 55 or older in 2019. This same research found 52% of urban physicians were over 55, suggesting rural organizations can expect to be impacted even more by the coming wave of rural physician retirements. However, burnout may be worse among typically overworked urban physicians. This, coupled with age, suggest urban organizations won’t escape the impact of increased physician retirements.

Both urban and rural healthcare organizations must brace for impact, and yet, the aforementioned Jackson Physician Search study found 69% of administrators don’t have succession plans at their organizations. Succession planning is critical for easing retirement transitions, and rural and urban organizations must prioritize it. However, it’s not the only thing they can do to prepare for and minimize the impact of rural and urban physician retirements. Keep reading as we explore the recommended approaches for rural and urban organizations.

Mitigate Burnout to Delay Urban Physician Retirements

While the average physician age in urban areas may be slightly lower, as Baby Boomers continue to reach retirement age, these physicians will likely feel the shift in the physician-to-patient ratio. Admittedly, it may not be as intense as it is in rural areas. Still, for an already overworked physician workforce, the uptick may worsen already high levels of burnout, driving even more physicians into retirement.

Leaders of urban health organizations must therefore prioritize burnout mitigation to avoid early retirements caused by burnout. The causes of burnout are many, and there is no quick solution, but there are a few immediate actions management can take to fight burnout and improve job satisfaction. Improving communication between physicians and management is an essential first step. In a 2022 joint study from Jackson Physician Search and MGMA, physicians ranked “two-way communication with management” as the most important factor in job satisfaction — above compensation. In fact, 85% of physicians said two-way communication with management was “very” or “somewhat important” to their job satisfaction. However, when asked to rate their employers in this area, just one in four said two-way communication at their organization was “good” or “very good.”

Listening to physicians’ troubles will only get you so far. Leaders must take steps to reduce administrative burden, recognize and reward physicians’ hard work, and recruit support when needed.

Other ways to address burnout include offering more schedule flexibility, lowering productivity expectations, and finding creative ways for physicians to improve work-life balance. Physicians of all ages will welcome these options, but it is especially important to physicians approaching retirement age. In the recent retirement survey, nearly half (43%) of physician respondents said they hope to reduce hours in the years leading up to retirement. Extend the careers of physicians approaching retirement age by offering them flexibility and reducing their stress and burnout in their final years.

Embrace Flexibility to Counteract Rural Physician Retirements

Flexibility is equally, if not more, important for rural organizations. They, too, must give retiring physicians the leeway they need to reduce hours and go part-time if it will keep them working in some capacity. However, they must also offer this flexibility to potential replacements as a means of attracting candidates to the rural physician job.

In a joint study from LocumTenens.com and Jackson Physician Search, nearly half of the rural physicians (46%) cited “improved work-life balance” as a top factor in their decision to practice rural, the most commonly cited reason. More than a quarter (27%) said the ability to work part-time or flexible hours was a top factor.  Rural organizations should appeal to candidates’ desire for better work-life balance and demonstrate how the rural job can deliver.

If the rural organization’s patient load doesn’t lend itself to part-time work, they can build care teams leveraging advanced practice providers. These care teams, made up of providers working flexible hours, can meet the healthcare needs of the community as well as the lifestyle needs of the providers. Leveraging a care team will also reduce the impact of a single physician’s retirement.

Succession Planning for Both Rural and Urban Organizations   

Most importantly, both urban and rural healthcare organizations must create succession plans that forecast potential physician retirements and detail the actions required when a physician gives notice. Breaking the process into steps can make creating a succession plan more manageable. When a well-thought-out succession plan is in place, a replacement plan is in motion even before the retiring physician officially gives notice. This lessens the burden felt throughout the practice when a physician retires and ensures continuity of patient care for the community.

If your organization is expecting physician retirements in the near or distant future, now is the time to start planning. The Jackson Physician Search recruitment team can help you map out a timeline and, when you’re ready, begin sourcing candidates for the vacant role. Reach out today to learn more.


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[Infographic Guide] Address Key Generational Differences to Improve Rural Physician Recruitment


The results of the recent Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey show that 90% of physicians are open to considering a rural physician job if conditions are right. Physicians are drawn to rural medicine for a number of reasons, and the report suggests those differences often vary along generational lines. By discovering what each generation is most attracted to about rural medicine, organizations can more effectively market their open positions to physicians of every stage of life. Keep reading to learn how to address key generational differences to improve rural physician recruitment results.

Address Key Generational Differences to Improve Rural Physician Recruitment Results

An encouraging 90% of urban and suburban physicians are open to rural medicine if conditions are right, according to the 2022 Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey. A deeper look at this new data reveals what appeals most to each generation, so you can more effectively market rural medicine jobs to physicians at every stage of life.  

90% of physicians would consider rural practice if the conditions are well-aligned with their most important wants and needs.

  • 64% want higher compensation, bonuses, and benefits
  • 47% want flexible hours
  • 46% want improved work/life balance

Money Talks…to Everyone

Compensation is overwhelmingly the top reason physicians in every generation would consider rural medicine. 

  • 62% Baby Boomers
  • 63% Gen X
  • 72% Millennial

Promote Flexibility and Patient-centered Culture to Attract Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers

Most likely to already work in a rural setting 

55% of urban / suburban Baby Boomers say the ability to work part-time or have flex hours would prompt them to consider rural medicine

44% of Baby Boomer physicians say a flexible schedule or a part-time one would entice them to stay at their current organization for the next five years

37% of Baby Boomer physicians say “patient-focused” is  the most important attribute of an organization’s culture 

36% of Baby Boomers already practicing rural medicine chose to do so because it allowed them to spend more time with patients. 

To Win Over Gen X, Highlight the Ability to Make in Impact (and Have the Time and Finances to Live a More Balanced Life)

Gen X

Most likely to say they are personally (47%) and professionally (43%) unfulfilled

51% of urban / suburban Gen X physicians say improved work / life balance would make them consider rural medicine 

39% of Gen X physicians say physician autonomy is the most important attribute of an organization’s culture

For the Gen X physicians already working in rural practice, money is a huge motivator. 49% chose it because of higher compensation and 52% were swayed by a more affordable cost of living. 57% said compensation is the best way to retain them for the next five or more years.

Focus on a Healthy Work-Life Balance and a Family-friendly Environment to Recruit Millennials


Most likely to be married to a physician (18%) 

30% of Millennials say student loan payoff could entice them to work in rural medicine

40% of Millennial physicians say supports work / life balance is the most important aspect of an organization’s culture

Most likely to say visa assistance and proximity to family / friends / colleagues would prompt them to consider a rural job


Visit our thought leadership page for more helpful presentations, case studies, and infographics. Or, reach out to a Jackson Physician Search representative for more information.

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Why Every Rural Healthcare Organization Should Recruit Advanced Practice Providers


The 2022 Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey from Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com gave rural organizations yet another reason to feel optimistic about their physician recruitment efforts. The data indicates 90% of physicians are open to rural opportunities if the conditions are well-aligned with their most important wants and needs.

While it’s certainly encouraging that physicians appear to be more open to rural opportunities than they have been in the past, the demand for care is also intensifying–putting increased stress on rural physicians.

Fortunately, rural healthcare organizations do not have to depend solely on full-time physicians to serve their communities. The aforementioned study found advanced practice providers (APPs) are also increasingly open to rural job opportunities.

While nearly half of rural healthcare organizations already employ at least one APP, this new data suggests organizations should consider expanding their care teams with a mix of physicians and APPs. A well-balanced rural staffing mix ensures patients have adequate access to high-quality care without overloading providers and putting them at risk for burnout, while also potentially reducing the cost of care.

If your organization needs additional clinical providers, keep reading to learn more about the many benefits APPs can bring to your community and to your facility.

Rural Healthcare Organizations are Already Utilizing Advanced Practice Providers.

According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, non-physician primary care providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants make up 46% of all providers at rural, federally qualified health centers. As mentioned, other data shows nearly half of all rural primary care practices employ at least one NP, and one in four rural healthcare providers are nurse practitioners.

Takeaway: Citizens in rural communities are already receiving care from advanced practice providers and are not likely to resist the addition of non-physician providers if it means easier access to care. In fact, a full 11% of patients in rural areas were seen exclusively by these providers.

Advanced Practice Providers are Eager to Work in Rural Medicine.

Advanced practice providers in the 2022 rural survey were highly likely to say they would consider practicing in rural locations on a full-time, permanent basis or as a locum tenens provider. As for what conditions would motivate them, like physicians, the most common answer was ”higher compensation, bonuses and benefits” followed by “the ability to work part-time or work flexible hours.”

Advanced practice providers in the survey were nearly three times as likely as physicians to say the opportunity to use telehealth would prompt them to consider a rural job (45% vs. 17%). They were also more likely to be motivated by loan repayment (43% vs 18%) and the chance to spend more time with patients (33% vs. 15%).

Takeaway: Advanced practice providers are attracted to high compensation and flexibility, but the chance to use telehealth and/or loan repayment may help to seal the deal. 

Advanced Practice Providers Proved Their Value Long Ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent demand for healthcare services for which the US was unprepared. In response to the shortage of healthcare providers, federal COVID-19 legislation broadened the scope of practice for advanced practice providers, where it was also permitted by the state. Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other APPs were ready to answer the call, and now, some say their success is proof the expansion should be permanent.

Regardless of the scope of practice debate, few would dispute the importance of advanced practice providers in the delivery of patient care. Whether working independently or alongside a physician, advanced practice providers increase access to care, while easing the burden on physicians and increasing revenue at healthcare organizations. It’s been reported that APPs bring significant cost savings to an organization—up to 30%.

Takeaway: It may be time to rethink what healthcare delivery looks like at your organization. APPs are trained to perform many of the same duties as physicians, often at a lower cost. They have the potential to be a key part of the healthcare staffing mix at any organization. 

Care Teams with Physicians and APPs Promote Work-life Balance.

For COVID-weary healthcare providers, work-life balance has never been more important. In the 2022 rural survey, both physicians and APPs ranked “improved work-life balance” among the top three factors that would prompt them to consider practicing in a rural location.

Better work-life balance is certainly in reach with a team-based approach to healthcare delivery. The presence of APPs allows for more flexibility in scheduling, providing better work-life balance for all providers. A collaborative care team where everyone performs to the full extent of their training will free up physicians to focus attention where most needed, give advanced practice providers appropriate autonomy, and help to mitigate burnout among all providers all while improving healthcare outcomes within a community.

Takeaway: What was once the responsibility of one, overworked physician might now be shared between a physician and nurse practitioner or a nurse practitioner and physician assistant under the supervision (if required) of a practicing physician. A flexible staffing mix will expand your candidate options and make your organization more attractive to potential candidates as you recruit.  

Technology Facilitates Well-balanced Clinical Care Teams. 

COVID-19 expedited the adoption of telehealth even in rural communities. According to a report from Rural Health Information Hub, though there are still barriers to usage, the adoption of telehealth is increasing in rural areas. The report goes as far as to say that the use of telehealth to provide specialty services is more feasible than staffing rural organizations with specialty and subspecialty providers. Thus, telehealth allows organizations to expand care teams to include physicians working remotely. An on-site APP may work virtually with an off-site specialist to coordinate patient care.

Takeaway: Telehealth and virtual meetings enable a team-based approach to healthcare that eases staffing challenges and expands access to care. 

Advanced Practice Providers Create Stability Within the Care Team.

Half of the advanced practice providers who responded to the 2022 rural study said they planned to work at least 16 more years before retiring. This suggests the potential for longevity and consistency when incorporating APPs into your rural healthcare staffing mix. This is especially pertinent considering that 2 in 5 physicians are nearing retirement, with the figure being even higher in rural healthcare.

APPs are also more likely to have ties to a rural community. Among the survey respondents, 38% had grown up in a rural community and 33% said they had extended family in the same area they work.

Takeaway: Advanced practice providers are less likely than physicians to be nearing retirement and are more likely to have roots in rural areas. Thus, it may be easier to attract advanced practice providers to your rural location, and once you do, they are likely to stay for a longer tenure, bringing stability to the care team and your patients.

Leveraging Locum Tenens Providers Ease the Burden for All. 

The occasional addition of a locum tenens provider on your care team allows providers to take time off, whether for an extended vacation or family leave, without disrupting patient care or placing additional burdens on existing members of the care team. Though administrators may worry about the expense of a locums provider, the benefits of maintaining patient access to care and keeping provider workloads stable typically outweigh the cost.

The other benefit of locum tenens usage is that it may serve as a recruitment tool. The Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com rural physician recruitment and staffing survey found a majority of both physicians and advanced practice providers would be interested in trying out a rural location as a locums provider. If the experience is positive, they may be willing to stay.

Takeaway: Adding a locums provider to care teams when needed keeps both patients and providers happy. It may also serve as a “trial” for a provider undecided about whether or not rural practice is for them.

If your organization is struggling to recruit physicians or to meet growing patient demand, it is advised to strongly consider incorporating advanced practice providers into the staffing mix. For more details about how to formulate an effective recruitment strategy, please download our latest survey results.

If your rural health organization is considering adding a physician or advanced practice provider to your staffing mix, the Search Consultants at Jackson Physician Search would be happy to help. Contact us today.

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[Infographic Guide] 4 Questions to Guide Rural Physician Recruitment and Retention


The results of the recent Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey give rural healthcare organizations reason to be optimistic about their recruiting efforts. The new data shows 90% of physicians are open to considering a rural physician job. The report provides insight not only about who will consider physician jobs but what they are looking for in a rural healthcare employer and what those organizations can do to improve rural physician recruitment. Keep reading to find answers to the four questions that guide rural physician recruitment.


4 Questions to Guide Rural Physician Recruitment and Retention

Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey Reveals Promising New Data to Answer 4 Critical Questions

1. Who Will Consider Practicing Rural Medicine?

Good news: 

90% of physicians surveyed would consider rural practice if conditions are well-aligned

Takeaway: Don’t discount anyone! Physicians are more open than ever to rural opportunities.


2. What Makes Physicians Consider Rural?

The data indicates higher compensation, flexibility, and improved work-life balance are the most common reasons physicians say they would consider rural medicine.

  • 64% Higher Compensation, Bonuses, and Benefits
  • 47% Ability to Work Part-time or Flexible Hours
  • 46% Improved Work-Life Balance
  • 33% Strong Organizational Culture
  • 29% Affordable Cost of Living

Administrators recognize the importance of work-life balance. However, they tend to overestimate the appeal of a lower cost of living (58%) and underestimate the importance of higher compensation (36%).

Takeaway: Understand what makes rural medicine appealing in order to more effectively recruit.  Consider the cost of recruitment and lost revenue (resulting from a physician vacancy) to justify offering higher compensation if needed. 


3. What Aspect of a Rural Organization’s Culture Is Most Important? 

Physicians, regardless of their location, prioritize autonomy as the aspect of an organization’s culture that matters most. 

40% of Physicians say Physician Autonomy but only 24% of Administrators think this is most important.

Rural physicians are more likely to prioritize a patient-focused culture (34%) and a family-friendly work environment (24%)

Takeaway: Consider the ways you can increase autonomy and improve other aspects of the organizational culture to increase the chances of attracting and retaining physicians. 


4. How to Improve Rural Physician Retention?

55% of physicians say higher compensation, bonuses, and benefits would motivate them to stay 5+ years

Just 37% of Administrators think compensation has this kind of impact

Money clearly matters, but so does fulfillment. 

27% of rural physicians describe their level of fulfillment as “enthusiastically happy.”  

Takeaway: Rural administrators must offer competitive compensation and promote the fact that rural physicians report higher levels of fulfillment than physicians practicing in suburban (21%) and urban locations (20%).

Visit our thought leadership page for more helpful presentations, case studies, and infographics. Or, reach out to a Jackson Physician Search representative for more information.

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Finding the Why: Consider Generational Differences to Improve Rural Physician Recruitment Results


Rural healthcare organizations saw an early “silver lining” from the global pandemic in that an increasing number of physicians, burned out and exhausted by the stress of COVID-19, expressed interest in rural physician jobs. In the Jackson Physician Search whitepaper on how COVID changed the physician job market, several recruitment leaders noted the influx of physicians seeking jobs in small towns, expressing a desire to be closer to family or to find what they hoped would be a slower pace of life.  

Physicians seek jobs in rural medicine for a number of different reasons, and a new Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey from Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com suggests those differences often fall along generational lines. By discovering what each generation is likely attracted to about rural medicine, rural healthcare organizations can capitalize on the surge of interest and more effectively market to physician candidates at every stage of life.  

Best Practices in Generational Targeting  

Marketers have long used generational targeting to strategically engage with consumers in every age demographic. While caution is needed when making broad generalizations, where the data shows similarities, savvy marketers will target their messaging to appeal to that segment.   

It follows that marketing physician jobs to specific generations, where the data shows similarities, could be a savvy physician recruitment tactic. So, what does the data say about what each generation wants in a rural job? The JPS and LocumTenens.com survey explores the employment needs and wants of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millenials in an attempt to answer this question.  

Approaching Retirement, Baby Boomers Seek Flexibility & Patient-focused Culture

At 63, Dr. T knows retirement is just around the corner, and yet, as much as his wife would like him to retire, he doesn’t feel quite ready. Of course, he’s tired of long hours at the hospital and speeding through patient visits, but if he could find a job that would allow him to scale back his caseload, maybe even work part-time, he thinks he and his wife could both be happy–for another 5 years at least.  

Nearly half (48%) of all Baby Boomers will retire in fewer than five years, and another third will retire in six to ten. Physicians of this generation have worked 30+ years, adapted to multiple phases of healthcare reform, and now endured a global pandemic. It’s fair to say, they are ready to slow down–though not necessarily retire. In fact, 44% say the ability to work part-time or have flexible hours would motivate them to stay at their current organization for another five years. But what would they need to consider a rural physician job? 

Interestingly, Baby Boomer physicians are most likely to already practice rural medicine. Many chose the opportunity because of the flexibility and the opportunity to spend more time with patients. The desire to work for a patient-focused organization is strongest with this generation, and the perception that rural physician jobs allow more time with individual patients is part of the draw.  The ability to work fewer hours–or perhaps part-time–is also attractive for physicians wanting to ease into retirement. 

Tips for Recruiting Baby Boomers: 

Does your rural position come with flexible hours? Is your organization focused on the patient? Assuming the answer to both questions is “yes,” promote these facts at every stage of the recruitment process–highlight it in the physician job posting, discuss it during the phone interview, and have the physicians they meet during the on-site visit reinforce these qualities by sharing stories of their own flexible schedules and quality interactions with patients.     

Gen Xers Want Better Personal and Professional Fulfillment

For Dr. M, retirement is still a distant idea–a finish line at the end of a still-long road ahead. She took a job with her current employer six years ago when they made an offer she couldn’t refuse. But now, at 49, she’s not sure the competitive compensation is enough to justify the long hours, demanding patients, and constant stress. With two kids in college, she can’t afford an early retirement, but unless something changes, she’s not sure she’ll last another 15 years.

The JPS and LocumTenens.com survey found Gen X physicians to be the least fulfilled–both professionally and personally. They’ve spent the better part of their lives pursuing a medical career, and now, as their children begin to leave the nest and they consider the next phase of their lives, they may be second-guessing what it was all for. They may question the impact they’ve had on their patients and wonder if they could have chosen a path with greater influence. Or perhaps they imagine who they might have been if they had made time to pursue other interests–and wonder if it’s not too late to try. 

There could be many reasons to explain Gen X’s lack of fulfillment, but the “why” is less important than the “what” they can do about it. Rural physician jobs typically offer higher levels of physician autonomy, improved work-life balance, and more time with patients–all factors likely to improve physician job satisfaction and fulfillment. Of course, with kids in college or nearing college age, competitive compensation is still a must, and rural medicine ticks this box as well. 

Tips for Recruiting Generation X:

If your rural physician job offers a healthy work-life balance, physician autonomy, and competitive compensation, emphasize these qualities at every interaction with candidates. As you learn more about a candidate’s professional goals and personal hobbies, help them envision a life in your community where they can both make an impact professionally and still have time to explore personal interests. 

Family-focused Millennials Need Work-Life Balance 

Hired out of fellowship by his current employer, Dr. J and his wife, also a physician, work long hours for their respective organizations. While they have been mostly happy these past four years, they know their current schedules won’t be sustainable when they start a family. Still, with double the student loan debt of most couples, they can’t afford for one of them to go part-time. They are willing to make some big changes in order to create the life they want for their future family, but will they consider rural medicine? 

It won’t take decades of working long hours for Millennials to recognize the value of work-life balance. In fact, they place more importance on work-life balance than any other generation. They have grown up with messaging about the importance of self-care, and as a result, they aren’t afraid to prioritize their own mental health. That said, the weight of student loan debt is heavy on this generation, and they can still be swayed by big bonuses or the promise of loan repayment.

Rural physician jobs may be the answer to Millennial physicians’ desires for a healthy work-life balance, flexibility, a family-friendly community, and of course, competitive compensation. An opportunity that also presents leadership opportunities and promises them a voice in the decision-making process is likely to keep them there long-term.  

Tips for Recruiting Millennials:

Millennials are most likely to be in an active job search, so find ways to connect with them online through social media and email. Emphasize the healthy work-life balance the job allows, and help them imagine a life in your family-friendly community. Keep in mind that nearly 1 in 5 Millennial physicians is married to another physician, so get creative in thinking about how a physician spouse might fit into your organization or that of a neighboring community.

Putting Generational Targeting Into Practice

It’s likely your rural physician job has attributes that would appeal to all three generations. So, should you choose a few to emphasize and focus on targeting one demographic? Only if you want to limit your candidate pool! The better option is to partner with a national physician recruitment firm with a vast database of physicians of every age and specialty. At Jackson Physician Search, we are able to create multiple versions of a single job posting to target specific segments of the physician audience. The digital marketing magic doesn’t stop there. Through social networks, email, and paid advertising, our search consultants and marketers ensure the physicians you want to reach notice the parts of your job that they’ll find most attractive–and most likely to persuade them to apply. 

Still not sure how generational physician recruiting works? Contact a JPS Search consultant today and they’ll be happy to share more. 

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[White Paper] Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey Results

We surveyed physicians currently working in urban, suburban, and rural settings to better understand their specific needs and wants in regard to choosing to practice in a rural location…

Need Help Recruiting Physicians?

Click the Get Started button if you’re ready to speak with one of our physician recruitment experts.

7 Reasons You Might Be Happier in a Rural Physician Job


Are you happy in your current physician job? If the answer is “no,” or “not particularly,” you wouldn’t be alone. In a 2021 Medscape survey, less than half of physicians surveyed reported being very or somewhat happy at work. Pre-pandemic, that figure was 79%. While practicing medicine in the US has always had its challenges, clearly, COVID-19 has made conditions even worse. This aligns with a recent survey conducted by Jackson Physician Search and MGMA in which nearly half of physicians said, over the past year, they had considered leaving their employer (48%) or taking early retirement (43%).

Physicians everywhere are reevaluating their professional choices and weighing their current options. For those seeking a better work-life balance, more time with patients, lower cost of living, and potentially higher compensation, one option is increasingly attractive–rural physician jobs. In fact, in a new rural study from Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com, 90% of physicians surveyed said they were open to considering a rural practice opportunity. This is great news for rural healthcare organizations, which are in desperate need of physicians.

The physician shortage in rural areas is nothing new, however, the demand is intensifying. According to reporting done by the AAMC, 20% of the US population lives in rural areas, but only 11% of physicians work there–and that figure may be shrinking. Due to the high volume of impending 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.

The need for physicians in rural areas has never been greater, but fortunately, recent circumstances are making rural practice opportunities more appealing than they once seemed. Perhaps due to the impact of COVID-19, physicians are increasingly drawn to opportunities that grant them the autonomy, flexibility, and compensation they desire. Rural health organizations are often in a better position to meet these needs, meaning rural physicians have multiple reasons to be happier at work.

The Benefits of Rural Physician Jobs

Dr. K pulls his sportscar into a parking spot at the West Texas hospital where he has worked for three years now. Admittedly, the small, critical care hospital isn’t exactly where he once envisioned himself going post-residency, but now, he and his wife, who is also employed by the hospital, can’t imagine living and working anywhere else. They are paid well, enjoy a family-friendly community, and their employer gives them the flexibility they need to be involved in the care of their young children. While most of his peers from med school and residency are still drowning in debt and working 60+ hour weeks, he and his wife have paid off the bulk of their loans (thanks to signing bonuses and loan repayment), built the home of their dreams, and still manage to find time for each other, their kids, and their hobbies. He and his wife often wonder why more residents and fellows don’t seek out rural physician jobs. He wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Dr. K’s story demonstrates several of the benefits of rural physician jobs–a signing bonus used toward loan repayment, flexible schedules, a healthy work-life balance, and an affordable cost of living in a family-friendly community. It appears to be an ideal setting for a young physician (or physician couple) to build both a career and a family.

In the Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com rural whitepaper, physicians practicing in rural areas were asked to reveal the top 5 factors that contributed to their decision to practice rural medicine. Improved work-life balance and higher compensation topped the list, cited by 46% and 44%, respectively. Not far behind was the “affordable cost of living,” cited by 42% of physicians practicing in rural areas.

1. Higher Compensation

In an article for NEJM Career Center, JPS President Tony Stajduhar shared that based on JPS data, physicians practicing in rural areas typically earn between 5% and 10% more than their urban and suburban counterparts. However, this does not account for incentives such as signing bonuses or loan repayment offers that are often used to sweeten the initial offer.

In the JPS and LocumTenens.com study, higher compensation was the most common reason physicians practicing in urban or suburban locations said they would consider rural medicine, cited by 64% of physicians surveyed. However, for those practicing rural medicine, compensation was cited as a reason by 44%.

2. Affordable Cost of Living

Even if the rural physician’s salary is not significantly higher, the lower cost of living in most rural communities can make the salary go much further than it would elsewhere. Especially as housing costs continue to rise all over the country, physicians in rural areas are more likely to find affordable housing than those in metropolitan areas.

3. Family-Friendly Environment

According to the JPS and LocumTenens.com whitepaper, 26% of rural physicians attributed their decision to practice in a rural area to their family’s preference or to their perception that it was a better place for children. Rural physicians are three times as likely to feel they live and work in a family-friendly environment than their suburban counterparts.

4. Work-Life Balance

Improved work-life balance is the most cited reason physicians say they decided to practice rural medicine. Perhaps because of flexible hours, job sharing, or simply a more relaxed work environment, rural physicians have more time to pursue hobbies and personal relationships that often get neglected by busy physicians in urban settings. This could explain why some studies report significantly lower levels of burnout in rural physicians than in their urban counterparts.

As Dr. A prepares for her day in the small, family medicine clinic in northern Idaho, she considers the patients on her schedule. On the job for over a year now, Dr. A is happy to say she recognizes most of the names and can even speculate the cause of each patient’s visit. Her job as a rural family practitioner is nothing like the one she left behind at a big, health system in Denver. There, she saw patients on a conveyer belt, never spending more than ten minutes with any of them before moving on to the next. Here, she has time to get to know them, ask about their lives, and help them make decisions that can improve their health. For this, they are grateful, and for the first time in her twenty-year career, she feels professionally fulfilled.

Dr. A’s story is similar to those of many physicians for whom the pandemic caused an awakening about what they did and did not want for their lives–both professionally and personally. Some felt let down by the way their employers handled the early days of the pandemic while others realized life was too short to spend endless hours feeling like a cog in the wheel. Whatever the specific reason, recruitment leaders report seeing an influx of physicians seeking jobs in small towns with a slower pace of life, where they can get back to the business of helping people.

5. More Time with Patients

According to the JPS and LocumTenens.com study, rural physicians are more likely to say their organization is “patient-focused.” The autonomy granted to rural physicians gives them more control over scheduling, meaning if they need more time with patients, they can make it. The lower patient volumes at rural health organizations may allow for more time with patients as well.

6. Professional Fulfillment

While physician job satisfaction is down on average, rural physicians are more likely to find satisfaction and professional fulfillment due to the autonomy, flexibility, and work-life balance often found in rural physician jobs.

Dr. T sits down for a cup of coffee at the hospital cafe after completing his morning surgeries. He will see patients in clinic this afternoon, but then, he’ll have four full days off in which he and his wife plan to explore their new community. He spent his whole career working 10 and 12 hour days, 5 or 6 days a week, and he had grown tired of the constant hustle. Of course, after the last two years, what physician wouldn’t be? And yet, Dr. T still didn’t feel he was quite ready to hang up his white coat. This was one reason the job in the foothills of the Appalachians had been so appealing–the opportunity to work part-time. The fact that he’d also be building the mountain house of his retirement dreams was just an added bonus. It seemed too good to be true. He only wished he’d made the move sooner.

Like many physicians approaching retirement age, Dr. T was hoping to ease into retirement by practicing medicine part-time. According to a 2019 JPS study, only 17% of physicians said they planned to take a full-retirement, and nearly a third said they intended to continue working part-time. Rural healthcare organizations provide an ideal setting for these physicians as they may not have the patient volume to support a full-time physician, or if they do, they are more willing to allow job sharing or make other flexible arrangements to win the candidate over.

7. Flexibility

Due to the severity of the physician shortage in rural areas, rural healthcare organizations are often prepared to offer physicians more flexibility than they will find in other settings. Physicians in every stage of life can appreciate this perk–from those starting a family to those approaching retirement.

The many benefits of rural physician jobs make it easy to see why rural physicians may find more happiness at work. While higher compensation and improved work-life balance are the dominant reasons for considering and deciding to practice rural medicine, other factors such as more time with patients, more autonomy, flexibility, and lower cost of living all contribute to physician satisfaction. As more and more physicians weigh their employment options, there is reason to think you, too, could find what you are looking for in a rural physician job.

If you are seeking an opportunity likely to increase your job satisfaction, consider physician jobs in rural areas. A Jackson Physician Search recruitment team would be happy to speak with you about current rural physician job openings. Contact us today.

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[White Paper] Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey Results


A new survey from Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com – both part of the Jackson Healthcare family of companies – shows hope for rural healthcare organizations to make progress in resolving their physician staffing challenges.

We surveyed physicians currently working in urban, suburban, and rural settings to better understand their specific needs and wants in regard to choosing to practice in a rural location. When those in urban and suburban locations were asked what factors might influence their choice to practice in a rural location, only 10% said they would not consider a rural location at all. The reality that 90% would consider rural practice if the conditions are well-aligned is welcomed news. Interestingly, 72% of urban and suburban physicians reported they would be open to considering ‘trying out’ rural medicine via a locum tenens assignment. Not only does this strategy fill gaps in coverage in the short run, but it could present another path towards permanent recruitment.

This report includes:

  • Physicians’ sentiments on what they want in a permanent rural opportunity
  • Physicians’ views on rural locum tenens and recommendations for its strategic use
  • A snapshot of how COVID is impacting physician retirements and rural recruitment
  • Tips to more efficiently and effectively recruit physicians to rural healthcare by addressing key generational differences when marketing job opportunities


State of Rural Healthcare

The U.S. continues to face a severe physician shortage, and unfortunately, the impact of this is often multiplied in rural communities. Around the country, “healthcare deserts” exist, meaning that people who live in rural locations – a disproportionate number of whom live under the poverty level and in poorer health – often must travel long distances to seek anything from routine care to treatment for chronic conditions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “Approximately one-fifth of the nation’s population lives in a rural area, but only about 10 percent of the nation’s physicians are located there. This is considered to be one reason rural Americans have higher rates of death, disability and chronic disease than their urban counterparts.” And, of the 7,200 federally designated health professional shortage areas, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that 60% are in rural areas. A few trends are converging to make the challenge of recruiting and retaining physicians for rural healthcare positions even more challenging:

  • Physician retirements are imminent, with 40% of active physicians across the nation reaching age 65 within the next decade. Compounding this anticipated exit is the reality that the percentage is even higher in rural areas.
  • The Great Resignation is likely to hit rural areas hard. According to Jackson Physician Search’s own research in mid- 2021, 43% of the physicians surveyed said they were considering early retirement and 46% said they were considering leaving for a new healthcare employer. This particular study addressed physicians working in all geographic areas, rural included.
  • Rural-raised medical students have sharply declined, while overall medical school enrollment has increased. A 2019 study found that fewer than 5% of incoming medical school students came from rural areas. This is significant because we know that these are the ones most likely to practice in rural areas.

Every signal we’re receiving from both physicians and administrators tells us that it’s time to shake up the status quo in how rural healthcare organizations approach physician recruitment. If we’re going to realize the goal of creating better access to healthcare and improved health outcomes for rural Americans, then healthcare leaders need to reimagine how they source, recruit and retain physicians.

With that in mind, Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com fielded this new research in October 2021, asking 1,311 physicians, 169 administrators, as well as 158 advanced practice providers, a series of questions to better understand the specific dynamics of working in rural, urban and suburban healthcare settings and what could be done to entice more providers to go rural. Of particular interest is sentiment broken down by the needs and desires of physicians by each generation, and our recommendations for recruitment and retention that take these differences into account.

With a focus on learning what it would take to increase the success of physician recruiting and physician retention practices in rural settings, we asked questions such as:

  • What would prompt you to work in a rural setting?
  • Would you be open to a locum tenens assignment that would enable you to “try out” practicing in a rural location?
  • What are the top attributes of your organization’s culture that appeal to you?
  • What factors would motivate you to stay at your current organization for at least five more years?

Additionally, COVID continues to influence the decisions physicians are making about their careers. Questions we asked included:

  • Has the experience of working in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated your plans for retirement?
  • For those working in rural healthcare, was COVID-19 the reason you chose it?

Download the White Paper to Get More Insight Into Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing


For more information about how your healthcare organization can use the results of this survey to improve your physician recruitment and retention strategy, contact Jackson Physician Search today. Our team is made up of healthcare industry professionals who have spent decades recruiting physicians, physician leaders and advanced practice providers for healthcare organizations coast-to-coast.

And for more information about locum tenens staffing, please contact LocumTenens.com. Since 1995, LocumTenens.com has been a full-service locum tenens agency. The need has never been greater to connect great clinicians and great healthcare facilities. LocumTenens.com recruiters work on specialty teams and focus only on one specialty. This way, LocumTenens.com medical recruiters learn the ins-and-outs and become recruiting specialists in each area.

About Jackson Physician Search

Jackson Physician Search is an established industry leader in physician recruitment and pioneered the recruitment methodologies standard in the industry today. The firm specializes in the permanent recruitment of physicians, physician leaders and advanced practice providers for hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers and medical groups across the United States. Headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., the company is recognized for its track record of results built on client trust and transparency of processes and fees. Jackson Physician Search is part of the Jackson Healthcare® family of companies.

About LocumTenens.com

LocumTenens.com specializes in the temporary placement of physicians, advanced practitioners and psychologists at healthcare facilities across the U.S. through onsite and telehealth services. As the industry’s most-visited job board, LocumTenens.com helps healthcare organizations connect with the medical professionals they need to ensure patients have access to quality care. Founded in 1995, LocumTenens.com is a leader in the healthcare staffing industry, helping place clinicians who deliver care to more than seven million patients in over 2,400 healthcare facilities in the U.S. LocumTenens.com is a Jackson Healthcare company. Learn more at http://www.locumtenens.com/about.

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Doctors Wanted: Benefits of Practicing Medicine in Rural America


The healthcare needs of the 46 million Americans living in rural areas have never been greater. In many of the country’s smallest towns, there are no nearby physicians, dentists, or psychiatrists. In contrast to their urban neighbors, rural patients must drive long distances to access the healthcare services they need. As a result, they often choose to delay routine care, which can lead to long-term consequences for their health. In fact, those living in rural areas are statistically more likely to succumb to cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and various cancers.

The maldistribution of providers is stark. Twenty percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 11% of physicians choose to practice there. The primary care physician to patient ratio in the most remote areas exceeds 1:3,500; far higher than the national average. The sheer volume of patients that a rural doctor manages is astronomical and inevitably challenging. Yet, as many of the physicians who chose early on in their career to work in a rural setting would testify, it can also be very rewarding.

Finding Your Calling

Pursuing a career in medicine isn’t for the faint of heart. Doctors, like you, usually feel a deep calling to serve and care for those around them — who else would put themselves through the rigors of medical school and several additional years of training, often at the expense of personal finances, work/life balance, and mental health? Before most doctors get their first post-training job, they’ve already accumulated more than $200,000 in debt. Sound familiar? Also, many of your peers are struggling with physician burnout and even depression.

While rural healthcare facilities have long struggled to recruit, the pandemic is causing some providers to re-evaluate their priorities. If you’re open to giving rural healthcare a go, you, too, might just find it to be a much-needed respite.

Dr. L, a family medicine physician who was nearing the completion of her training, had just begun her job search when an opportunity at a 25-bed hospital in central Minnesota presented itself. While she had strong ties in the state, she had never imagined herself practicing there or in any small community. As she soon discovered, the benefits far outweigh any perceived drawbacks. More autonomy in how she would practice medicine, student loan payoff, and administrative staff that demonstrated its commitment to open, two-way communication was a lure she couldn’t pass up. Now, she can’t imagine practicing elsewhere.

Her experience isn’t unique. Of the 63,000 primary care and mental health professionals that have been placed in rural areas and received student loan pay-off benefits from the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), many have elected to stay long past their initial commitment. For these doctors, it seems that how they are enabled to practice medicine is a much bigger priority than where they do it. Having a good work/life balance, an influential voice, and a deep affection for their patients is something they aren’t willing to leave behind for the conveniences of a city.

Doctors Wanted – Great Benefits

The pandemic has altered the physician recruitment landscape with more doctors than ever actively seeking new opportunities. Doctors are desperate for relief from the stress and uncertainty they’ve been facing during the last two years. If you are among them and open to considering a change, keep reading to learn some of the many benefits available to you outside of the big cities.

Scope of Practice Growth

When you are one of few physicians within a community, you learn to rely on your skills, training, and instincts to care for patients with needs outside your original scope of training. In a rural setting, you may not have specialists to rely on, so your knowledge will grow in nearly every aspect of medicine. This can serve you well within the community, or later when seeking new opportunities.

Autonomy to Practice Medicine Your Way

In a recent Jackson Physician Search survey of physicians and administrators, 43% of the doctors said they wanted more autonomy in practicing medicine. For most physicians working in a rural setting, autonomy is a major component of the job, especially considering that you’ll find yourself practicing outside the narrower scope of your training, as mentioned above.

Leadership Responsibility

Rural physicians are relied on for their natural leadership skills and generally have much greater input into how things are done in the facility. You will have the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on everything from the organizational culture to policies and procedures. Physicians who practice rural medicine are typically introduced to and responsible for much more than their urban counterparts.

Respect of the Community

Rural physicians find themselves on a first-name basis with many of their patients. You will invariably see them around town, at school functions, and in other social settings. If you have never lived in a small town, it may take time to get used to this unique dynamic, but you will soon see how rewarding it can be to establish this level of respect, trust, and community involvement with your patients.

Compensation and Benefits

Rural opportunities often come with higher compensation – as much as 10% is common. For those just out of training with student loans to pay back, those extra dollars will make a significant difference in your quality of life now and later. Plus, perks such as signing bonuses, relocation expenses, housing allowances, and travel stipends often accompany a job offer.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Financial incentives toward student loan debt repayment have become common in rural and urban healthcare systems. Rural physicians often receive offers of $75,000 – $100,000 in loan forgiveness, sometimes more.

Lower Cost-of-Living

Although it is not controlled by the healthcare system, a significant financial incentive for accepting a rural physician job is the difference in the cost-of-living. From housing costs to taxes, rural communities are where physicians can make their salary go much farther than in larger metropolitan areas.

Work and Life Perks

Physicians considering rural opportunities often find these positions offer more flexible schedules, which can lead to a decrease in burnout and an increase in time outside of work to conduct medical research, pursue personal interests, and hang out with family.

Job Sharing for Specialists and End-of-Career Doctors

There are many variables to consider when it comes to patient volumes and the number of physicians needed for coverage in rural health systems. This issue especially rings true for specialty services, with many systems resorting to creative solutions such as job sharing to cover the gaps. In some cases, multiple facilities within a geographic region will share a job. However, other times, a full-time job is simply divided between two doctors in the same facility. Similar to being considered part-time, job sharing may be a perfect opportunity for soon-to-be-retiring physicians.

If practicing in a rural setting has piqued your interest, Jackson Physician Search has a team of healthcare industry professionals to help you find an opportunity anywhere in the country that meets your personal and professional needs. Our experience and industry contacts can make all the difference in finding you a position that you’ll be happy in for years to come. Search jobs now.

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Managed Care’s Earliest Roots Planted in Rural America: How One Hospital CEO is Building on Its Legacy


This year marks the 10th annual National Rural Health Day, a day set aside to celebrate rural communities and to honor the mission-oriented healthcare providers who selflessly care for some 57 million Americans. It’s also a time to bring awareness to the unique challenges facing rural healthcare organizations.

Unlike any other year, rural hospitals have witnessed how COVID-19 has accelerated some aspects of healthcare that have elevated patient access, while also shining a light on others that remain insufficient. And considering that the closest specialist could easily be 100 miles or more away, the stakes are often higher in our rural communities.

Advocating for rural healthcare is how Corey Lively has found a deepening sense of purpose ever since taking over seven years ago as CEO of Great Plains Regional Medical Center in Elk City, Oklahoma. With big shoes to fill, he’s passionate about engaging the community, inspiring others to find happiness through humility, and building on the legacy of a 72-bed hospital that is known as the birthplace of one of the earliest managed care systems in the U.S.

We had an opportunity to get Corey’s perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on rural healthcare, what needs to change to improve sustainability for the entire rural network, and how his staff embodies resilience in the face of an unrelenting pandemic. Keep reading as he answers our questions with wisdom and a much-needed dose of empathy.

Question: Great Plains Regional Medical Center has a unique history that transformed the industry. Can you share the story?

Answer: It’s a great one! In 1929, Dr. Michael Shadid of Elk City, Oklahoma, which is about half-way between Amarillo and Oklahoma City, convinced the area’s Farmer’s Union that they’d have improved access to affordable healthcare by pooling their resources to build a hospital. Selling shares for $50, the hospital was built, and it became one of the earliest managed care systems. Today, Great Plains Regional Medical Center remains a true, independent hospital with more than 400 shareholders who continue to have voting rights. To give you an idea of our reach, we have 450 employees who serve our immediate community of about 15,000 people. Each year, we handle more than 2,500 acute care admissions, perform more than 3,000 surgeries, and field more than 15,000 emergency room visits.


Question: What has been your experience regarding the pandemic from March through today?

Answer: We started by planning aggressively to face whatever was coming. We put our surge plans into place and made the difficult decision to postpone elective surgeries. Like most facilities, we followed the community census closely to ensure we were on top of the critical data regarding infection rates and hospitalizations. We went through a difficult period for about six weeks starting April 1st but then it began to taper off as the summer months approached.

There was a valley in cases through July and August, but a new spike appeared in September. As patient admissions continue to rise, we’re responding in a big way. What’s really challenging as a leader and for our staff is to maintain peak adrenaline for such an extended period of time. Rural healthcare is taxed because there is no “B” team. Everyone is playing offense and defense, so we’re focused on doing everything we can to support our staff through this crisis.

Question: What types of new processes and procedures were implemented and will some of those changes be permanent?

Answer: We definitely had to do things differently. Out of necessity, some will end up being permanent, especially as it relates to security. One challenge that arose right away was how we would help families communicate with loved ones in our care and their physicians, while visitor access was restricted. It was especially heartbreaking for us to watch patients struggle with isolation, so we quickly brought in iPads. Now, via Facetime, patients, physicians, and families remain connected.

In rural healthcare, it’s really important to engage the community. Our hospital is unique in that we have a very nice cafeteria that serves great meals. During normal times, we operate like a restaurant and people in the community come to dine with us. When COVID hit, we had to prioritize patient safety and close the cafeteria. This left a big gap, so we have since implemented mobile meals.

Question: Has Telehealth played a larger role your response to COVID-19?

Answer: To put it in a statistical framework, prior to COVID, we had about 5% utilization of telehealth, and now we are up around 48-52%. It has really been a valuable tool that grew out of necessity. Many of our specialties got creative in utilizing the technology to continue serving patients. For example, we’re championing increased use of telehealth for dialysis and psychiatric care. It’s interesting – I’ve read that telehealth adoption and technology has jumped a full ten years from where it was anticipated to be right now. As a rural health advocate, I hope that the relaxed policies that came after COVID hit become permanent. I can already envision how many more patients a specialist could see remotely from a single location versus practicing out of several.

Question: What can HHS or the federal government do to help rural health systems?

Answer: COVID aside, to this day, there is no greater gap in the delivery of care than the one that exists between rural and urban populations. The federal government doesn’t engage rural healthcare administrators often enough, and that needs to change. They can start by listening and striving to understand our needs. For example, they should be helping us tighten up the rural provider revenue cycle. That is something that can be solved. And from a COVID perspective, one thing the pandemic has shown us is the vulnerability and inadequacy that exists in the medical supply chain. With COVID spiking again, we’re finding it difficult to secure PPE like gowns and gloves.

Question: With rural healthcare sometimes deemed a less desirable career option for physicians, what are your strategies for recruitment?

Answer: We are constantly keeping an eye toward the future, because any provider we bring on board has to be right for the facility and the community. The barometer we use is, “would I trust them with a family member?” Our approach is to use every tool available to find quality physicians who fit our culture. Sometimes we are able to source the candidates on our own, but we also maintain a strong relationship with Jackson Physician Search because you know our facility and what types of physicians can be successful with us. You’ve done a great job.

Another thing that I do is maintain a list of medical students and residents that have ties within 60 miles of our hospital. I make an effort to reach out to them periodically. Sometimes we share a meal, just so I can let them know we care about them and their success. I do the same with a list of about 50 practicing physicians. As an independent hospital, we have more flexibility in our compensation and benefits package. For instance, if a candidate cares more about student loan payoff, we can often work with that.

Question: Since we’re celebrating National Rural Health Day, has anything surprised you about how your staff has handled the past nine months?

Answer: Honestly, we have an amazing team and nothing that they accomplish really surprises me. I believe so much in them! But through all of this, three things have really stood out. First, everyone here has an incredible sense of family and community. Second, they are incredibly resilient. And third, their expertise and caregiving skills are unrivaled. We are all pulling together, and we support each other every day by saying, “We’ve got this!”  We will keep pushing through, because the person next to us is doing the same. As members of this special community, we are passionate about helping rural Americans to have access to great healthcare.

Combat the Turnover Trap

“We’ve had multiple staff test positive for COVID, and you might think that it would make them hesitant. But after recovering, they all came right back to work to keep treating patients. Their resiliency inspires me every single day!”

Corey Lively, CEO, Great Plains Regional Medical Center

Question: Before we close, what drove you to become a CEO at a rural hospital?

Answer: Becoming a hospital CEO was actually not in my early career plans. I have a Master’s Degree in Counselling and had always wanted to help children. As I pursued that, I realized there were so many things in this world that happen to us as we grow up, and they nudge us toward the path we are supposed to be on. For me, it was having the desire to influence children, to help them move from where they are to the best place they can be.  And then, I got the nudge about fifteen years ago when I had an opportunity to come over to healthcare administration. The move really ignited my passion to bring healthcare to rural communities, especially to where I am from in rural Oklahoma.

Consider this, we are over 117 miles from the nearest Level-1 Trauma Center. I want this community to know that if something happens to any of them, we may not be able to do everything they need. But we are going to save their life and get them to where they need to be. It’s part of what drives me. Every day, I realize that we are doing something here for the greater good – for our community’s health and well-being.

I’d like to leave you with a little story. You never how or when you are going to impact someone’s life. Seven years ago, as I was leaving my previous job for this position, the staff had a little going away party for me with a few gifts. Our Director of Pharmacy handed me a box and asked me not to open it until later. When I opened the box, there was a plaque with a star on it that said, “I will never forget that humility is the key to happiness.” I was taken aback because it was something I said to him four years prior when he was going through a difficult time. I reached out to thank him, and he said that sharing that sentiment changed his life. It just goes to show that you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to help someone, and you may never even know that you did.


Corey Lively became CEO of Great Plains Regional Medical Center in 2014

Great Plains Regional Medical Center at a Glance

  • 72-bed, Joint Commission accredited, acute care facility, not-for-profit corporation located in Elk City, Oklahoma
  • Only Hospital in Western Oklahoma and only 1 of 12 Oklahoma hospitals named a top performer for Quality Patient Outcomes by The National Organization of State Offices Rural Health and iVantage Health Analytics
  • Emergency room named by Becker’s Hospital Review as a Top 20 in the Nation for its superior Quality Outcomes and efficient care
  • 100+ physicians and providers offer advanced care in more specialties and subspecialties than any other facility in Western Oklahoma and North Texas

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our staff. The way they have rallied to the call is incredibly inspiring, and it is not just the medical staff. Everybody is in this together from our physicians to our nurses to registration and our housekeeping staff. The effort is amazing, because it is so difficult to maintain peak adrenaline for such long periods of time.”

Corey Lively, CEO, Great Plains Regional Medical Center

Partner with a Recruitment Firm Dedicated to Your Community’s Success

If your rural hospital could use additional support in recruiting physicians who fit your culture, will engage with the community, and will stay, consider partnering with the healthcare recruitment professionals at Jackson Physician Search. Our decades of experience has afforded us the ability to maintain a nationwide pool of candidates and to develop the technology and tools to help you fill your most challenging vacancies.



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