The American population is becoming more diverse. The chance that two people chosen at random are from a different race or ethnic group increased exponentially since the last U.S. Census. However, it probably won’t come as a surprise that the physician workforce hasn’t followed suit. Among the many stats, Black and Hispanic Americans account for nearly a third of the population, (per the U.S. Census Bureau), yet only 10% of them are doctors (per the AAMC) As for current medical students, just under 11% are Black or Hispanic (also per the AAMC).
Then there’s the mounting physician shortage, also recently reinforced by the AAMC, which says the deficit could be between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. Primary care is one of the top specialties seeing a shortage, and this greatly affects rural areas. Nearly 80% of rural America is medically underserved, yet most doctors also hail from the suburbs – which is where they most often return to practice. In contrast, only about 4% of medical students come from rural areas, even though 80 million Americans live in rural areas.
For people living in the medically underserved communities of rural America, this shortage is significant. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system,” said AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, in an NBC report. Lower vaccination rates are compounding the already limited medical care, and COVID is negatively affecting rural Americans at twice the rate of those living in urban areas! “The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”
Positions in rural areas have been challenging to recruit for long before the pandemic. With a shortage of physicians, those who are working are feeling burned out. And with too few doctors nearby, many people are skipping important check-ups and even procedures because of travel constraints, funding, and more. Lack of diversity affects the health of rural Americans, too. Studies show that patients trust their doctors more if they have the same racial or ethnic background. For example, Black men who received treatment from Black doctors were 50% more likely to get a diabetes screening and 75% more likely to get a cholesterol screening -- screenings that could reduce mortality by 16 deaths per 10k every year (per a study from Stanford).
Greater diversity within the doctor workforce is crucial to boosting access to care and health outcomes. This divide is likely to widen as access to medical care becomes limited for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer, and non-vaccinated. And if you recruit locum tenens physicians, you know the rural shortage is why locums were created: to bring care to people in medically underserved areas and allow overworked doctors in rural areas to catch a break. Locum tenens is still a lifeline for many hospitals, doctors, and patients there, but we need more. How do we align America’s doctors with our patients?
Many rural healthcare organizations have started taking action in unusual ways, including Guthrie Healthcare, Mississippi Valley Health, and the Mayo Clinic. A story shared by Becker’s Hospital Review shares how CEOs of these organizations recognized that recruiting top talent to rural areas often requires more than just what their facility offers: they need local restaurants, stores, and other attractions. So, they have started working closely with local organizations, community leaders, and even municipal and county governments to foster development.
Data from CompHealth supports this reasoning, too: Early-career physicians rank work-life balance, location, and culture among the top reasons they stick with a job. Work/life balance is a big part of the decision-making process when choosing a job. “While physicians use a wide variety of resources to search for their first permanent jobs, it’s the most traditional methods–referrals and networking–that are used by nearly half of survey respondents. These methods remain highly effective, accounting for more than 40 percent of physicians’ first jobs.”
For physician recruiters, there are some major advantages to speak to when it comes to rural opportunities. Many doctors find real satisfaction in moving away from a city, and they often report that they love being able to “do it all.” If you’ve ever read the musings of Emergency Medicine’s Most Esteemed Columnist, Edwin Leap, MD, rural America is a “fantastic place” to practice emergency medicine. There are fewer specialists in rural areas, so emergency physicians can use the full range of their training. “Small, rural hospitals see the same life-threatening conditions as more urban centers; the only difference is that they do more with less.” Not boring. Often challenging. Always fulfilling.
We offered other tips from our Client Success Managers in an earlier article you’ll find helpful, too: Rural Recruiting in 2021. What’s changed and What’s Remained the Same.
If you’re recruiting for diversity or sourcing for rural healthcare opportunities – and beyond – we invite you to join us for a Doximity User Training session on October 19: The Art of Sourcing: How to Find the Right Candidates.