Being a Doctor in a Rural Area

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Just the Facts

Almost 25% of the US population lives in rural areas across the country.  However, only 9% of all practicing doctors work in these same locations. These numbers indicate that the work of a rural doctor is one full of both challenges and rewards.  If you are interested in becoming a general physician, but you’re not necessarily interested in working in a big city, you might want to consider seeking employment opportunities in a rural community.

 Your Community

Rural communities have populations of less than 10,000 people, and as one of the few doctors in your area, you’ll get to know your neighbors well.  In addition to being their primary care provider, you will also know your patients as people who live, work, and play in your own backyard. You’ll have knowledge of local families and community institutions.  Because of this holistic knowledge, your patients are more likely to be comfortable seeing you as a full participant in the local community rather than “just a doctor” they visit when they don’t feel well.

Working Conditions

Rural communities are small, but because you’ll be one of the few physicians in the area, your patient workload is likely to be busy.  Rural doctors work longer hours and see more patients than their suburban and urban counterparts. As a rural doctor, you may be the only physician that your patients have access to, so be prepared to diagnose and treat a wide range of symptoms, disease, and illness that are often managed by specialists in suburban and urban areas.  Your pay is likely to be less, but it will go farther in a town where the cost-of living is lower than a big city.  Expect to see a high number of patients on Medicaid and Medicare, as rural communities often have high numbers of recipients. As a rural doctor, you might feel like you are on call 24/7, since you are sure to run into your patients on a regular basis at the only grocery store or post office in town.

The Benefits to Small Town Life

You may have longer hours, but you’re less likely to feel stress while seeing your patients. The slow pace of rural life carries over into the exam room, and patients are less likely to be in a rush than their urban counterparts.  You’ll be able to take extended time to examine and treat your patients, to hear their concerns and even discuss local politics or sports.  In addition, because it is so difficult to recruit medical students into the practice of rural medicine, you qualify for student loan forgiveness programs–the longer you practice medicine in a rural community, the more loans can forgive. Because you’re likely to see your patients everywhere, you can take a proactive approach to care, checking in with your patients when you see them out and about in the community.  If full immersion in the field of medicine is a lifestyle you’d love to live, consider a career as a rural doctor. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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