Diversity in Rural Healthcare: Locum Tenens

Acknowledging the diversity within the rural healthcare sector is crucial, as socioeconomic and demographic factors significantly influence health outcomes. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we actively collaborate with a wide range of diverse and underserved communities in the American Northwest. Our providers are not only top-notch in their medical skills but are also deeply committed to being culturally aware and inclusive as they cater to various patient groups in rural clinics, hospitals, and industrial facilities, each with their own unique cultures. This practice of embracing diversity enriches our approach and enhances the healthcare services we provide.

Cultural sensitivity is paramount for a locum tenens provider, particularly one working with WMS. Our clients stress the importance of prudence and curiosity, as the rapport between patients and new providers is vital. A lack of cultural sensitivity can deter patients from seeking needed care. Understanding and respecting local customs and values are essential for building strong, positive relationships while on assignment. To assist you, we’ve compiled insights about some of the diverse communities you might encounter with WMS.

Diversity of Communities in Rural Healthcare

We are honored to collaborate with an array of communities, each enriched with distinct cultural characteristics. It is important to acknowledge that diversity encompasses much more than just ethnicity or race; for the purposes of this article, we also include the unique cultures that arise within specific work and living environments, which we touch on below:


Subsistence Lifestyles

Many of our patients belong to Native Alaskan groups, who practice subsistence hunting, fishing, and whaling. In some parts of Alaska, where little grows, and groceries must be shipped in at exorbitant costs, subsistence hunting is not just a tradition—it’s a vital part of survival. Healthcare providers must understand and respect these dietary sources, recognizing them as both a necessity and a cultural right.

Economic Considerations

The high cost of imported groceries makes local hunting and fishing crucial for sustaining the community. This economic reality shapes the health and nutrition of the population, aspects that locum providers must consider when discussing diet and lifestyle with patients.

Occupational Sites

Working on fishing vessels, industrial sites, or mines in Alaska requires a deep understanding of the physically demanding and often dangerous nature of these jobs. Providers need to establish a strong sense of trust with patients whose work-related health issues, such as chronic pain and injuries, often need serious and immediate attention.

Montana and Wyoming

Tribal Communities

Our services reach various American Indian tribes in the Northwestern States. Considering the historical context and past treatment of Indigenous populations in the U.S., there may be a preference among these communities for traditional remedies alongside Western medical treatments. Many Indigenous people seek help both from traditional healers and licensed providers. It is essential for healthcare providers to respect these cultural healing practices. While our providers would not administer these traditional methods directly, recognizing their significance and finding ways to harmoniously integrate them with Western practices can enhance the overall treatment plan. In cases where traditional healing methods and Western practices may be incompatible, these issues are approached with careful dialogue to respect all perspectives. This approach fosters trust and respect in the healthcare services we provide, acknowledging the value of diverse medical traditions.

Agricultural Economy

Understanding the agricultural basis of the local economy can help providers communicate more effectively with patients, respecting their daily realities and the physical demands of their work. Here, social norms around property and ownership are strong. It is culturally inappropriate to inquire about the extent of someone’s land, livestock, or possessions, as these questions can be seen as invasive.

School Environments

Working with children in schools across these states requires sensitivity to their unique needs and developmental stages. Providers must be patient and adaptable, learning how to engage effectively with younger patients who may struggle to communicate their health issues or have fears regarding certain procedures (vaccinations come to mind). School-aged children often belong to slightly different cultures when they are at home and at school.

Don’t hesitate to ask your patients considerate questions—engage actively and listen carefully! Patients often appreciate it when providers show genuine interest in their lives and cultural backgrounds. This openness encourages them to share important details about their health that might otherwise go unmentioned.

Challenges from Diversity in Rural Healthcare

In rural healthcare settings, cultural misunderstandings can sometimes create barriers between providers and patients. For example, language differences or unique local customs may initially impede clear communication. Recognizing and addressing these barriers is crucial for effective healthcare delivery. Providers are encouraged to utilize translation services when necessary and to familiarize themselves with the local customs and traditions that influence their patients’ perceptions of health and medicine. This approach helps shift the focus from seeing patients as mere numbers in a system to understanding them as individuals with unique backgrounds and needs.

Another potential challenge in these locations is the power of word-of-mouth in tight-knit communities. Initial perceptions from the community can be difficult to overcome, and a provider’s reputation is built slowly through consistent, reliable care. However, once trust is established, word-of-mouth becomes a significant asset. It can lead to greater patient compliance, increased attendance at health initiatives, and more effective public health interventions. Our goal is for both providers and patients to have enriching experiences where patients feel genuinely cared for, and providers effectively fulfill their roles, treating each individual with the attention they deserve.

Rewards of Diversity in Rural Healthcare

Working in diverse rural settings offers significant personal and professional growth opportunities for healthcare providers. The typically lower patient volumes allow providers more time to get to know each person they treat, fostering a deeper understanding of the patient’s life context and health concerns. This not only improves the quality of care but also enhances the provider’s integration into the community, making them feel more included and appreciated in the local culture. Patients, in turn, feel truly validated and supported, which can significantly enhance health outcomes and patient satisfaction. Our providers often find that these interactions deepen their empathy and improve their adaptability to different cultural contexts. The gratification of overcoming cultural challenges and making meaningful impacts in these communities provides a profound sense of personal fulfillment and professional accomplishment.

Although there may be initial challenges in understanding and integrating into the community, these cultural barriers often dissipate as our locum providers are warmly invited to partake in local cultural celebrations. Whether it’s feasts, dances, markets, or sporting events, our providers frequently find themselves embraced by the community. For example, Josef B., PA-C, not only participated but also took the initiative to enhance community engagement by organizing a ‘Turkey Trot’ at a local school gym, complete with tickets and prizes. This involvement showcases the mutual celebration and cooperation that can flourish between providers and community members.

Locums Embrace Diversity in Rural Healthcare

It is well documented that locum tenens providers play a role in bridging gaps, especially in marginalized communities that might not otherwise have access to healthcare. Our providers partner with diverse communities to enhance local healthcare efforts by contributing additional expertise and resources. We want to emphasize that the healthcare challenges faced by these communities are not due to any shortcomings by the local healthcare facilities or the communities themselves. Collaboration allows us to come together and directly address the existing healthcare disparities, which are rooted in global, systemic issues. Through their daily interactions and decisions, rural locum tenens providers actively demonstrate that patient care must transcend cultural, racial, and economic barriers, thereby making significant strides in transforming healthcare practices to be more inclusive and just for all individuals.


At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we understand that effective healthcare goes beyond medical knowledge—it requires a deep respect for and comprehension of diverse cultural backgrounds. Each patient interaction is an opportunity to build trust and foster a relationship that enhances overall care. By engaging with and learning from the communities we serve, our contracted providers do more than deliver healthcare; they become integral participants in a movement toward a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system.

We invite both prospective and current providers to take on these rewarding journeys. Deepen your understanding of the varied human experiences that influence health perceptions and outcomes. Participate in cultural celebrations, learn from unique community norms, and help dismantle the long-standing disparities in healthcare delivery. By embracing the diversity of your patients, you enrich your practice, enhance your empathy, and expand your professional horizons.

We hope for a future in which healthcare is equitable and respectful of all cultural backgrounds! If you have similar goals, reach out to us today.

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