To Reduce the Rural Doctor Shortage, Train More Doctors from Rural Areas

By Fred Jacobs
February 14, 2019

Rural America is short on doctors. Only about 11 percent of physicians practice in rural communities — though nearly 20 percent of the population resides there.[1]

Medical schools can help alleviate this crisis by attracting more aspiring physicians from low-income, rural backgrounds.

Many doctors are reluctant to practice in rural areas. Only 3 percent of final-year medical residents want to work in an area with a population of 25,000 or less, according to a 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey. More than nine in ten want to practice in communities with more than 50,000 people.[2]

Recruiting students from rural regions can help resolve this issue. One of the biggest determinants of whether doctors will practice in rural areas is their backgrounds, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.[3]

In general, people from small towns come from lower-income backgrounds. The average per capita income in America’s urban areas is about $9,000 higher than in rural areas, according to the National Rural Health Association.[4]

Creating scholarship programs that bring doctors to rural areas can help address the doctor shortage and this income disparity. Consider the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s rural physician scholarship program, which provides state-funded scholarships to students with rural backgrounds who want to practice in those areas.[5]

Here at St. George’s, we make sure that students from rural areas can afford to go to medical school. About 80 percent of our medical students use financial aid to help pay for tuition.[6] Last year, SGU awarded merit scholarships to students from more than 30 states — including many of those experiencing rural shortages, such as Georgia and Texas.[7]

The rural doctor shortage is growing. Making it more financially feasible for aspiring doctors from rural areas to get degrees can help close that gap.

 

[1] https://lowninstitute.org/news/fix-rural-doctor-shortage/

[2] https://www.merritthawkins.com/uploadedfiles/mha_2017_resident_survey.pdf p. 5

[3] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1844613

[4] https://www.ruralhealthweb.org/about-nrha/about-rural-health-care

[5] https://www.umc.edu/Office%20of%20Academic%20Affairs/For-Students/Academic%20Outreach%20Programs/Mississippi%20Rural%20Physicians%20Scholarship%20Program/Mississippi%20Rural%20Physicians%20Scholarship%20Program.html

[6] https://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-medicine/financial-aid-and-scholarships/#tab-1

[7] https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2012/10/22/the-10-states-facing-the-biggest-physician-shortages

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