Hospitals and healthcare providers across the U.S. are facing a shortage of qualified medical professionals, especially physicians. The physician shortage is having an even greater impact on smaller, rural communities, where adequate healthcare-provided by basic public health services and medical offices-may be several miles away. For a physician willing to practice outside of a major metro area, a rural community offers unique benefits. Following is a list of benefits that healthcare executives should consider when outlining their top-down strategy for attracting top physician candidates to their rural organization-and retaining them.
Benefit 1: Saving on Student Loans
Many states provide special financial benefits to encourage physicians to practice in rural communities. The major incentive offered is in the form of federal and/or state funded student loan reimbursement. The amount of loan forgiveness is incrementally increased with each year the physician continues to practice in the rural community.
Benefit 2: Better Quality of Life
Physicians practicing in an urban or suburban locale may get paid a higher salary; however, lower overall cost of living in a smaller town could offset a salary difference. For example, an annual salary of $200,000 in Cobb, California is arguably equivalent to a salary of $378,713 in Stanford, California when factoring in cost of living. Given that the cost of living is often significantly less in rural areas, physicians can purchase a larger house on several acres of land compared to the little real estate available if living and practicing in a large city. Rural towns are generally smaller and less congested with traffic, decreasing the driving times and stress that usually accompanies living in a larger metropolitan area. Hospitals should look for opportunities to play up the benefits of a rural community – access to wildlife, sports, arts, food – as part of the total package offered.
Benefit 3: The “Hero” Status
Physicians who choose to practice in rural communities have the potential to become the “town hero.” Members of smaller towns recognize that local physicians have selected their community as their place to practice and can develop a greater allegiance and admiration for their doctor than that of a city doctor who sees hundreds of patients daily.
Benefit 4: Access To Personable Patient Care
Related to benefit 3, rural physicians have the ability to spend more time with their patients. Doctors in small towns are not ruled by bureaucracies that set quotas on how many patients a physician needs to see per hour. This increase in time affords the physician the opportunity to get to know the patient on a more personal level. For those physicians who may be considering, but are not sold on, a rural hospital as their residency of choice, invite them to meet with a few local patients who are supporters of the organization. These patients can attest to the 1:1 relationship that develops in a rural community.
Benefit 5: Expanded Learning Experience and Opportunity
Doctors in rural areas receive patient cases they might not normally come across in medical school or during their residency. Because a rural physician is known as a “jack-of-all-trades,” the physician will see a broader scope of illnesses. Since a specialty hospital or clinic might be inaccessible to the patient for geographic reasons, a rural physician needs to be proficient enough to provide a wider variety of services that might be passed off to a specialist if practicing in a big city. Invite potential candidates to shadow a long-time physician in the organization so they can see first-hand how rural primary care providers are able to tap into new skills while on the job.
There are usually other benefits more specific to a particular hospital or healthcare organization that healthcare executives should consider and incorporate into any jobs listings, open position profiles or recruitment materials and events their organization develops. At the very least, why not state the obvious? Without the help of qualified medical professionals, rural health services would suffer and would inevitably impact patient care – something no physician wants.