4 Reasons Rural Healthcare Jobs Could Be a Great Fit
Becoming a rural doctor has much to offer, from loan forgiveness to community impact to personal and professional fulfillment.
As you work your way through your residency program, the thoughts are never far away:
- Where should I practice when I’m done?
- What kind of environment will I thrive in?
- How can I be sure I’ll be happy in my first job?
If you’re seeking greater meaning and rewards from your career, rural medicine could be for you.
“When I think of rural positions, I think of an opportunity to have a huge impact in terms of the patients you are caring for,” says Tessa Kerr, a recruiter at Provider Solutions & Development (PS&D) who has been recruiting for rural Oregon communities for several years. “It’s an opportunity to build strong relationships and care for generations of families.”
The advantages of working at a rural practice or hospital are many. You’ll build lasting relationships with your patients, be a valued and integral member of your community, work top-of-license, and enjoy a life of greater ease and affordability (think 5-minute commutes and lower house prices). You can also benefit from the financial incentives offered to many physicians who choose to work in underserved regions.
Read about each of these benefits in more detail below:
1. Make Rich Connections Providing Healthcare in Rural Areas
A physician in an underserved area is often one of a handful of doctors in the region. While urban communities have 31 physicians per 10,000 people, there are typically just 13 physicians per 10,000 people in rural areas. Being a rural physician allows you to make an immediate and lasting impact on the community's health.
“There is a real, personal connection to the people and the job in a rural community,” says Mike Shimmens, executive director of 3RNET, the nation's leading resource for health professionals seeking rural job opportunities. “You can see and understand the impact you have and really have the feeling that you are making a difference.”
~ Tessa Kerr, Senior Physician Recruiter, PS&D
Working in a rural area also allows you to become a community leader. Shimmens says it’s common for rural providers to teach school children about nutrition, serve as team physicians for high school sports or volunteer at free clinics — roles that can bring fulfillment while supporting community health.
2. Work Top-of-License and Build Your Skillset as a Rural Physician
Rural healthcare providers enjoy a broad scope of practice and have greater autonomy, Shimmens says. This can be especially attractive to new physicians. You are given more opportunities to do what you’ve been trained to do, whether that’s delivering babies, providing emergency care or completing a variety of procedures. Rural roles also allow you to provide the care you’re passionate about, such as well-woman, geriatric or pediatric care.
Not only does providing such a wide range of care help keep skills sharp and current, but rural positions can allow you to develop research and leadership skills, says Tracie Klander, physician recruiter at PS&D.
“You should think about your long-term plans and where you want to be in five or 10 years,” Klander says. “Don’t assume that rural physician jobs won’t have research, leadership or teaching opportunities. They often do and developing that side of yourself can serve you well in the big picture of your career.”
These sorts of opportunities are important to keep in mind as you think about your future as a physician. A physician recruiter can help you discover if these options are available where you want to work.
3. Tap into Loan Forgiveness Opportunities for New Doctors
Most physicians leave residency with six figures of debt, which can pose a barrier to working in a small town where the paychecks sometimes aren’t as high. But debt relief is possible and is often more available in rural roles.
“There are many opportunities for incentives, especially if you are looking to work in a rural or underserved community,” says Stacy Kusler, North Dakota Center for Rural Health and Board President of 3RNET. “Loan repayment programs, some federal and some state-level, use Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) scores to determine your loan repayment eligibility.”
The National Health Service Corp (NHSC) assigns HPSA scores based on many factors, including the population-to-provider ratio, the percentage of the population below the federal poverty level, and how long someone would have to travel to access care. These scores determine how important it is for an area to hire new providers. The higher the score, the more resources are dedicated to recruiting physicians and other health providers to that area.
“There are many opportunities for incentives, especially if you are looking to work in a rural or underserved community. Loan repayment programs, some federal and some state-level, use Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) scores to determine your loan repayment eligibility.”
~ Stacy Kusler, Board President, North Dakota Center for Rural Health and of 3RNET
Stacey's advice? When looking for a rural healthcare position, look for the area’s HPSA score. It won’t guarantee you’ll qualify for loan repayment, as HPSA scores and the number of applications for these programs change yearly. But a higher score makes repayment options more likely.
If you don’t qualify for federal programs like NHSC, you may be eligible for State Loan Repayment Programs. Each state has different programs, and a physician recruiter can help you determine what’s available.
4. Enjoy a Better Quality of Life
Rural communities offer an alternative lifestyle to working in a large, urban city. From affordable housing to good schools to the great outdoors, serving a small community has substantial benefits.
“Often, the right candidate for rural area jobs loves the outdoors,” Klander says. “They don’t want to travel to enjoy nature and activities. They want to get outside right after work.”
~ Tracie Klander, Senior Physician Recruiter, PS&D
Rural jobs are often near mountains and lakes, providing an easy and convenient stress reliever. Activities like hiking, camping, boating, skiing and fishing are easily accessible. Less time in your car and more time spent doing what you love can be an antidote to physician burnout, bringing improved balance and mental health.
And don’t forget about the financial benefits of rural living. With a lower cost of living, you may be able to purchase a larger home or more land than you would in a big city. If you have a family, your children can enjoy close-knit, often highly rated public schools with smaller class sizes and more personal attention.
Connect with Provider Solutions & Development to Help You Find the Right Physician Job
As you look for your first physician position remember this: New physicians can make a tremendous difference in the lives of rural patients. Learn how working with a recruiter can help you find the right role the first time, and reach out today to get the conversation started.