The Association of American Medical Colleges projected that there will be a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. It’s a staggering number that begins to outline the need for additional physicians in the United States. To make matters worse, the inability to find qualified physicians in rural healthcare causes these communities to suffer more than their urban counterparts.
According to HRSA.gov, as of March 31, 2021, there were over 7,313 Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary care nationwide. In rural areas, there are 4,495 HPSAs, with a need of 3,924 practitioners needed to remove that designation.
At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we’ve seen first-hand the effects that physician and healthcare professional shortages can cause on communities. For patients, it can literally be the difference between life and death, depending on whether or not they are able to receive medical care when they need it. Our job is to make sure these underserved areas can get the care they need by working with both the medical facilities and providers.
Not only is this a win for the communities, but it can also be a win for the physician. Being a physician in rural healthcare comes with distinct advantages.
1. Medical Loan Repayment or Forgiveness
If you attended college in an urban setting, you probably didn’t think too much about switching over to rural medicine after graduation. Many students who come from rural settings decide not to go back and practice medicine in those environments after med school.
A big plus of being a physician in a rural setting, however, is the opportunity for medical loan repayment or forgiveness. While not all healthcare facilities provide these opportunities, many states and healthcare organizations offer these incentives to recruit more qualified healthcare providers to underserved areas.
You can find summaries of some of these loan forgiveness programs here.
These loan repayment programs are only offered to permanent placement providers. However, being a locum tenens provider in a rural area can be a great way to get a feel for what it’s like to work in a rural or remote area before committing to a permanent position.
If you’re interested in becoming a permanent physician in rural healthcare, but want to test out what it’s like to live there first, talk to one of our recruiters about our locum to permanent positions.
2. Autonomy Within the Medical Facility
For many physicians, having a sense of autonomy within a rural medical facility is a welcome change from urban healthcare centers. You likely want to work on a supportive team and be entrusted with the care and treatment of your patients.
Typically, in larger populated areas, you may have experienced that having autonomy is not easily accessed. More executives get a say in how patient care is performed, leaving physicians wanting to be more involved and in charge of their patients. As a physician in rural healthcare, you typically enjoy having more input in important decision-making – especially when it involves patient care.
It’s not only you, as the provider, who benefits. In your role, you also serve as a leader in the hospital and the community. This autonomy can increase the continuity of care between the provider and patient, creating a more trusted relationship and higher quality of care overall.
3. Less Bureaucracy
Physicians often feel the burden of bureaucracy in larger healthcare settings. Administrative overhead is high and expectations for physicians to fulfill quotas over patient care can run rampant. While this isn’t the case in all high-capacity medical facilities, you may have run into situations where you’ve found yourself pressured to fill hospital or clinic beds to make the facilities more money.
As a physician in rural healthcare centers, the quality of patient care is often prioritized. With fewer administrative duties, you likely will have more control of the way your patients are cared for. Instead of being focused on filling hospital beds, you can practice more meaningful medicine.
The perk of less bureaucracy is one reason why many medical providers work with WMS. We often speak with physicians who are passionate about helping people and feel frustrated with an inability to provide care at the level they would like within larger medical systems. For them, rural healthcare is often a welcome solution to providing high-quality medical care.
4. Community Involvement
When you’re a physician in a small town or rural location, you get to immerse yourself into the community in ways that you otherwise would not be able to. Oftentimes, we have providers who write to us, telling us they were invited to a community dinner or a traditional ceremony.
As a physician in rural healthcare, becoming part of the community is an incentive to provide high-quality healthcare to its members. You know the community, cultures, and pastimes of your patients in a way that simply doesn’t happen in larger medical settings.
Wilderness Medical Staffing often works with medical facilities in areas that have dense indigenous populations. The traditions and strong ties to the land and area that these communities have allow you to not only become immersed into a community but also to learn more about the cultures.
5. The Adventure
Many of the locations that Wilderness Medical Staffing places our physicians in for assignments include unbeatable access to the great outdoors. In fact, access to adventurous locations is often the greatest reason that physicians choose to work with WMS. We’ve even had people find our company because we have “wilderness medicine” in the name!
Many destinations we staff are in places like islands in Alaska or landlocked plains, making access to these locations an adventure in itself. But once our providers arrive at their assignment, is where the real fun begins.
As we previously discussed, many rural healthcare clinics and hospitals are smaller in size than their urban counterparts. Therefore, it’s not unusual for the physicians we staff to be the solo physician or one of a few physicians or APPs in a medical facility. Without having large teams of medical providers to treat patients for various medical conditions, it’s often up to the singular physician to diagnose and treat them. Many times, physicians enjoy practicing this one-on-one healthcare, along with the challenges and rewards that can come along with it.
Treating patients is obviously part of the job, but then there are the opportunities that await during time off. When working in a remote or rural location, you often have an opportunity to enjoy the areas by being immersed in them. If you love the great outdoors, practicing medicine in a rural location could be a great opportunity to get outside.
Depending on where your assignment takes you, you may find yourself in an area with world-class fishing, gorgeous hiking trails, mountains abounding, rafting opportunities, national parks, animal sightings, and more.
6. Choose How You Live in Rural Locations
Not only are physicians in rural healthcare in need, but it can be a win-win for the medical providers who work there.
At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we offer locum tenens and permanent positions in rural locations to physicians, so you have a choice of how long you will stay in the rural location. With locum tenens positions, you have the option to staff a medical facility for a predetermined amount of time, which can be appealing if you enjoy living in the city or suburbs most of the time, but like the slower-paced life of the rural countryside or oceanside, as well.
If you’re interested in getting started as a locum tenens physician in rural healthcare, reach out to us. We’d love to chat.