Healthcare organizations across the country are facing physician shortages that will adversely affect the delivery of healthcare in rural communities. For instance, urban residents have 1.5 times more primary care physicians per 100,000 patients than residents in rural communities. The ratio for specialists is even more alarming, with 54 specialists per 100,000 patients in rural areas and 134 per 100,000 in metropolitan communities. As healthcare reform continues to take place, the disparity will likely persist.
Recruitment and retention of rural doctors has become very competitive and many healthcare organizations are starting to source physician candidates as early as their second year of residency. As work-life balance has become an important issue for today’s physicians, practicing in rural communities can offer unique benefits that give the balance these physicians are searching for. The following report lists some of the advantages provided to rural physicians.
Bigger Compensation and Additional Incentives. Although physician compensations vary due to supply and demand, location, and population, average physician salaries in rural communities are typically higher than those offered in urban cities. For instance, a recently graduated general surgeon can earn $40,000 more in Midwest areas. The National Healthcare Service Corps offers rural primary care physicians $45,000 more than the national starting salary average. Rural healthcare facilities that offer higher compensation usually provide other financial incentives to employees. These incentives include loan forgiveness, sign-on bonuses, paid CME and malpractice insurance with tail coverage. Physicians can also take advantage of federal or state funded student loan repayment programs. These programs are incrementally increased with each year the physician continues to practice in the community.
Increased Work-Life Balance. With lifestyle preferences becoming increasingly important to physicians, rural areas can provide the perfect work-life balance. Rural communities not only allow for a more relaxed pace of life, but they also offer both recreational and cultural opportunities. Many rural communities are great places to raise a family in a close-knit environment.
Lower Cost of Living. Physicians in rural areas may have fewer opportunities to generate revenue than those in major metros, but the lower cost of living can provide these doctors with greater financial stability. CNN Money’s Cost of Living Calculator reveals that a $300,000 salary in Manhattan, New York has a comparable salary of $152,605 in Albany. Even though there is a great difference between these two numbers, the cost of housing, utilities and groceries also greatly differs. Physicians can benefit from lower housing costs in rural areas, and many healthcare organizations offer relocation assistance to their employment arrangements.
Broader Medical Experience. With less competition among physician services, doctors in rural communities are more likely to encounter a broader scope of illnesses. If patients cannot access specialty facilities, rural physicians must have an extensive medical skillset to provide quality care for all types of cases. Many medical schools provide rural-track programs and specialized rural training to bolster their students’ medical experience. In Kansas, the Scholars in Rural Health program recruits second year residents who are interested in practicing in rural communities and offers guaranteed employment after completing program requirements.
Opportunities for Foreign Physicians. A 2009 report from the American Medical Association found a quarter of the total physician workforce is made up of international medical graduates. In addressing the current physician shortage, the government is changing the law to allow foreign-trained doctors to more easily practice in the United States. An immigration bill that was recently approved by the senate will open doors for international medical graduates to obtain permanent residency. These physicians must practice in underserved rural communities for three years to be a part of this program. The Conrad 30 program permits international medical graduates a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement of the physician’s J-1 visa. The program allows each state’s Department of Health to sponsor up to 30 physicians every year for J-1 waivers and is mainly targeted toward family practitioners, general pediatricians, psychiatrists, internists, and obstetricians and gynecologists.
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