Locum Tenens in Rural Areas: Spreading Care
While nearly one-quarter of Americans live in rural areas, only about 10% of physicians choose to practice in rural regions. Despite the clean air and slower pace of rural life, the need for healthcare services is just as present (and in some cases more present) among rural residents. Yet rural residents are less likely to have health insurance through an employer, and the poor are less likely to have Medicaid than poor people in urban areas. Accidents are deadlier for rural residents too, sometimes because simply getting to a proper healthcare facility can take too long.
There are over 2,000 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the US and its territories, but only around 900 HPSAs in urban areas. “Health Professionals” includes nurse practitioners, RNs, and physician assistants as well as physicians. While stopgap measures can help address the need for rural healthcare, they don’t always work as well as intended.
Stopgap Measures to Improve Rural Healthcare Delivery
The National Health Service Corps provides scholarships to students to train to be primary care doctors if they agree to serve patients for one year in an area where a provider shortage exists. Primary care training loans and loan repayments for doctors who locate in rural areas can be terrific for offsetting the massive debt that most medical students acquire, and for physicians who want to work in rural settings, these programs are ideal.
However, current shortages in rural areas will require thousands more doctors (and dentists) to alleviate the lack of medical care options, and comparatively low cost of living in rural areas isn’t enough to attract sufficient numbers to serve rural communities.
Reasons So Few Doctors Practice in Rural Areas
Medical schools have fewer applicants who come from rural areas, and of the rural residents who do go to medical school, about half don’t intend to return to their rural roots afterward. Medical residents tend to practice close to where they train, and most of America’s medical schools are located in cities.
Additionally, physicians who choose to practice in rural areas may find that there simply aren’t enough patients to support a practice. Furthermore, some rural areas have a large proportion of Medicare patients, and Medicare doesn’t reimburse doctors as much as private insurers do. Infrastructure in rural areas can be lacking as well, with doctors and other providers in these regions often working in small clinics where phone and internet connections are insufficiently reliable. And in communities with large Native American populations, many patients have tribal first languages.
Technology and language barriers exist in some rural parts of the US.
When emergencies occur in rural areas, transferring patients to hospitals may rely on transportation modes like charter planes, which can be put out of service by weather conditions. Finally, the lone doctor serving a village essentially never gets a day off. Burnout and resentment can be manifestations of having to shoulder too much alone.
Simply Churning out More General Practitioners Isn’t the Answer
When government assistance has been provided to increase the size of medical school classes with the hopes that more new physicians will choose to practice in underserved areas, the results have not been promising, and in many cases, funding for these programs stopped. An increased supply of physicians has not done much to address problems of geographic distribution of medical care – especially for specialists and sub-specialists. Enrolling more students in medical school generally must be accompanied by concerted efforts to specifically enroll those interested in serving rural areas and those who come from rural areas and are likely to go back.
Why Locum Tenens Physician Jobs Can Help Address Needs for Rural Care
Locum tenens physician jobs, as well as locum tenens positions for nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, offer a remarkably successful method to address healthcare shortages in America’s rural areas. It’s no longer a career choice that is only for filling in employment gaps, but can be an exciting career choice in itself. Doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants may deliberately choose locum tenens work to achieve better work-life balance, to experience living in different places, and to gain valuable perspectives that they wouldn’t get by associating themselves with a single hospital system or practice long term.
If you’re interested in locum tenens physician jobs, or if your clinic, hospital, or practice is in need of locum tenens providers, we urge you to schedule a consultation. We’d love to explore your options with you.