Rural Health Hardest Hit by U.S. Doctor Shortage

Source:

5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Rural Health Hardest Hit by U.S. Doctor Shortage Physicians' Increased Specialization, Desire for Work-Life Balance Cited as Causes

Alpharetta, Ga., May 1, 2008 Experts project that over the next decade the U.S. doctor shortage will become even more acute in rural health, where physician recruiting firms like LocumTenens.com do at least 60% of their business.

Consider these rural health statistics from the National Rural Health Association:

  • Roughly 20% of the U.S. population lives in rural America, but only about 10% of U.S. physicians (MDs) practice rural medicine.
  • There are 2,157 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA's) in rural health areas of all states and US territories compared to 910 in urban areas.
  • Twenty percent (20%) of non-metropolitan counties lack mental health services versus 5% of metropolitan counties.

Changing Lifestyle Preferences

Lifestyle trends among younger physicians exacerbate the more severe doctor shortage in rural health. These include more women than men entering medicine (women tend to work fewer hours), increased interest in specialties that will pay off medical school debt faster than family medicine, and a greater desire for balanced living among those newer to medicine.

Recent physician surveys conducted by LocumTenens.com confirm what has been documented by the health care media as less willingness among young physicians to practice medicine at the expense of family, community involvement, personal health and well-being or other nonprofessional pursuits.

"Today's average physician isn't wiling to work 24/7 like many in their parents' or grandparents' generations did," LocumTenens.com President David Roush said. "Physicians' desire to 'have a life' has even greater implications for a rural medicine, which many perceive as lower-paying and more demanding."

A 2006 World Journal of Surgery article offers insight into this trend through describing how the lifestyles of today's physicians differ from those of "the good old rural general surgeons" from decades past. In his article, Keokuk, Iowa, Health Systems Chief Executive Officer Allan W. Zastrow said the latter viewed practicing rural medicine as "a calling" that brought doctors with a desire to be 'big fish in small ponds' together with communities that needed and respected them.

In contrast, he said about today's general surgeons, "The first questions are usually about the 'on call' rotations (How many nights and weekends a month am I on call?), the number of weeks of vacation, continuing medical education, and the closeness to major transportation centers, major shopping centers, and cultural centers."

Urban Preference

LocumTenens.com's August 2007 physician survey findings echo the administrator's observations. Among almost 800 responding physicians with rural health experience, more than half (54%) said they like urban or suburban life more, even though more than half of those profess to prefer practicing rural medicine.

A brief article from the April 4, 2008 issue of The (Torrington, Wy.) Telegram also is illustrative. In recounting three Community Hospital vacancies left by recent or pending family practitioner departures, the author states that "the three doctors all left for personal preference reasons, rather than professional reasons."

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