Rural Bound: Persuading Doctors to Work in Rural America

Posted by Doximity TF Team

37952168_sIt’s no secret that recruiting physicians for rural positions is a challenge. So, how do you encourage doctors to work in rural America? There are more and more reasons for doctors to choose a rural lifestyle including the chance to make a difference in a rural community, higher compensation as well as other financial incentives, and overall a better quality of life – both personally and professionally.

It’s true that physician candidates may have limited options when it comes to nightlife or fine dining in rural areas, but the positives can far outweigh the negatives. For starters, because rural areas are less populated, land prices are lower, which means the quality and size of a home are much more spacious than those in an urban market. Childcare, property taxes, and a whole range of services tend to be less expensive, too (per U.S. News).

Many of these small, rural communities know they have to get creative to sign doctors, so they often offer incentives beyond a standard compensation package. According to the Merritt Hawkins’ 2019 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives in the rural U.S.:

  • Signing bonuses are offered in 71% of search assignments
  • The average signing bonus is $32,692
  • Relocation allowances are offered in 98% of searches, with the average being $10,393
  • Educational loan forgiveness may be added (offered in 31% of our searches) with an average amount of $101,571  

What’s more, compensation in rural areas is typically higher – though it’s a myth that rural doctors make 25%or more than urban doctors. The reality is it’s about 10 percent higher (per the New England Journal of Medicine).

Many physicians fear their skills will deteriorate if they work in rural communities. Edwin Leap, MD, says “anyone who believes that their skills in medical care will deteriorate outside a teaching center has probably not spent much time, well, outside a teaching center.” In fact, many physicians with rural experience say they have more responsibility and get to practice a wider range of treatment due to having less physicians around that have specific specialties. If you’re recruiting for a rural job and you have a candidate that is young and eager to learn and gain experience, a rural position might be just the place for them. 

The lifestyle in rural America may not be for everyone, but for many physicians it’s second to none. Lucia Williams, MD, of Jacksonville, Texas (pop. 16,000) grew up the daughter of a rural physician in a rural community and made a conscious decision to go “back to the country” with her medical degree, and she’s unwavering in her choice. “You have to be pretty independent and that’s one of the things that intimidates a lot of new graduates,” says Williams. “There aren’t 15 people you can call to consult with, and you have to be able to figure things out for yourself. I love what I do. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” Williams says.

Rural medicine is bound to make physicians feel valuable. Of the many doctors we speak to who are working in rural America, most say they feel a sense of community, and they are reminded every day of how precious their services are. Hope Amantine, MD, gets asked all the time what it’s like to be a rural surgeon. She gives the bad news first: no specialists. “The typical surgical education quip is, ‘see one, do one, teach one,’ but I haven’t seen one. So, I get the book off the shelf,” says Amantine. The good? She tells of a woman who needed a breast biopsy. “At her post-op visit, she brings me a scarf that she knitted, and it’s soft, with lovely colors in intricate patterns, and she made it just for me. In short, It is never dull. Sometimes it is stressful, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes intellectually challenging, always rewarding. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 

At the end of the day, you want physicians to feel more satisfied with life and their career, and you want that to come across in your job opportunities - it can help to remind candidates of this. According to Dr. Edwin Leap, “Rural doctors may be the last best hope for someone.” If you want to learn more great tips about how to attract candidates to your rural opportunities, check out this article with insight from our team of Client Success Managers: 8 Ways to Attract Candidates to Your Rural Positions.

Are you recruiting for rural positions? Learn how rural recruiting is different from traditional recruiting and more in our webinar recording on rural recruiting. Watch it here

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Topics: physician recruiter tips

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