According to the National Rural Health Association, 25 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but only about 10 percent of physicians choose rural medicine as a career path.
There are multiple factors that contribute to this statistic. Preventive medicine and health education do not always get the emphasis they should in rural communities and some people operate with the mindset that a trip to the doctor isn’t warranted unless there is some kind of emergency. Access to subspecialties or other medical services also can present obstacles.
However, rural medicine also offers many rewards for physicians and advanced practitioners, like the opportunity to care for an array of patients, ranging from city dwellers to the Amish Community.
Dr. Sherry Williams and Dr. Kenneth Brown, who have both practiced in rural communities, say that they've found themselves calling on aspects of their physician training that an average family doctor might not use on a daily basis. The cases involved, they say, might wind up in the emergency room in a bigger city.
“I like the rural environment,” Dr. Brown says, noting that rural doctors have the unique opportunity to really get to know their patients, sometimes caring for many generations. He urges students interested in pursuing a career in medicine to investigate assistance programs in place for students who pledge to practice in rural areas.
“Small-town physicians also have the opportunity to become community leaders,” says Dr. Williams, citing a desire to get more involved in the community she serves.