Recruitment for rural physicians starts with a summer program

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

As I sat outside a farm in Carrollton, MO last weekend during a family trip, I noticed how the sunset seemed sharper, the food better, and the air fresher. I could hear the noise of crickets and children playing. I thought, “Aha, this is why people move here.”

Which is why a new report on the Summer Community Program out of, appropriately, the University of Missouri School of Medicine, seemed to be on point. The 15-year study says that when medical school graduates participate in the program, which places them in a rural community for four to six weeks between the first two years of medical school, it pays off.

Researchers followed up with more than 200 participants involved in the program between 1996 and 2010 to see how the summer program changed their perceptions of rural medicine. Their findings: those involved were 30% more likely to enter primary care residency training and twice as likely to choose family medicine. Out of the participants, 46% chose their first practice locations to be in a rural setting.

“For those who show an interest or may be on the fence about practicing in a rural community, giving them this real-world experience has been a factor in that decision-making process,” noted Kathleen Quinn, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at the MU School of Medicine and co-author of the study, in a statement.

As long-term care providers, you may know of some of the struggles rural seniors face. The rural poor are less likely to be covered by Medicaid benefits than their urban counterparts, according to the National Rural Health Association. Medicare payments to rural hospitals and physicians are less than those to their urban counterparts for equivalent services. Ultimately, while 20% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, only about 9% of physicians reside in rural areas, meaning those in rural areas often have to drive 45 minutes to see a physician.

The Mizzou Tigers aren't the only ones to recognize the importance of putting more rural physicians in the pipeline. In 2007, Mississippi creating a Rural Physicians Scholarship Program, and a University of Washington program called the Targeted Rural and Underserved Track seeks to guide qualified medical students back to working in their communities.

I suspect that programs like this work by demystifying misconceptions about small country towns. There are definite downsides, but these are also places where you don't have to lock your car, where you know your neighbors, and where children have the freedom to romp around on acres of greenery. Recruitment at any level of healthcare, be it for physicians or long-term care employees, begins by showing people that yes, this is a place where you can live, work and thrive.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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