Physician Career: Is Rural Practice Right for You?

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According to the American Medical Association, only 10% of physicians practice in rural areas. Of those 10%, about 27% are older than 55 and on their way to retirement. The entire nation is experiencing the impact of physician shortages, but rural areas are feeling the pinch even more.

If you’re still considering your physician career path, it’s worth it to give rural practice more consideration. “Rural practice” sounds like a curse, though, doesn’t it? If your mind is dancing with images of cornfields, dilapidated old porches and scenes from Deliverance, you’re not alone — there’s a stigma that comes with rural areas, which is why so many physicians write off the idea of small-town practice altogether.

However, positions in rural areas are among the most rewarding, lucrative and fulfilling jobs available, and many of the stigmas are unwarranted. Your opinion depends on your perspective and priorities of course, but many doctors — including those who thought they’d never flee city life — find these areas incredibly rewarding.

When planning your physician career search, geographic location is one of the biggest factors that comes into play. You’ll need to consider proximity to your family, lifestyle preferences and the needs and wants of your spouse and children. Stage 4 in the Adventures in Medicine Online Resource Library covers these topics thoroughly.

For some, rural areas fit the bill perfectly. Many have surprisingly large and advanced community health centers and are within reasonable driving distance to mid-sized and major urban centers.

Here are four reasons you might want to consider a physician career in a rural area:

1) Rural Hospitals and Health Centers Typically Offer Superior Compensation

As a general rule, physician pay decreases as population increases. First-year physicians in rural areas make roughly 10% more than those in mid-sized cities, and about 20% more than those in large metro areas. These numbers are rough, and you also have to consider regional markets — compensation also varies across the Southern, Midwestern, Western and Eastern United States.

For more detailed info, see our previous post: How the Average Physician Salary Varies by Location.

2) A Physician Career in a Rural Area Provides An Excellent Sense of Community

Physicians in smaller towns and cities can stay just as busy as those in major metro areas, but they’re able to form connections with their patients. Getting to know families and members of the community is incredibly rewarding for rural physicians, and it allows them to feel more connected and involved.

3) It’s Easier to Afford a Better Quality of Life

Many new doctors (especially first-time homebuyers) are blown away at the differences in housing costs for rural and metro areas. The price difference for similar houses in rural and metro areas can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if you’re making an impressive salary, housing costs aren’t something you should take lightly.

Plus, rural areas are less congested and often have easy access to outdoor opportunities. If urban amenities are important to you, you can look for a physician career within driving distance of a mid-sized or major city to experience the best of both worlds.

4) You Can Take Charge of Your Physician Career and Be a Leader in the Community

For many physicians, autonomy and leadership are incredibly important. Positions in smaller communities are much more conducive to these values. Rather than playing a “supporting role” in a vast health system, physicians in rural communities are often at the front and center, forming bonds with patients, making key decisions and becoming leaders within the communities they serve. It’s easier for them to see the direct impact that their work has on others.

What are your thoughts on a physician career in a rural area?    

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Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Guthrie Clinic supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Guthrie Clinic is making practice purposeful.

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About

Holly Higgins is a freelance writer. She enjoys working with the Adventures in Medicine team and industry experts to create educational materials for residents, fellows and practicing physicians.

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