Recruiting Primary Care Physicians: Away from Specialties and Into Rural Areas

Feb 13, 2012, 6:19 PM

Convincing a medical student, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in debt, to take a lower-paying job or move to a low-income, rural community can be a tough sell. So perhaps it’s not surprising that many new physicians gravitate toward high-paying specialties or urban sprawls with modern-day conveniences. But with an aging population and millions of people poised to gain insurance coverage under the health reform law, the nation is in desperate need of general primary care physicians, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

Last week, NPR reported on a technique that one rural community has used successfully to recruit primary care providers – “mission focused medicine.” At the Ashland Health Clinic in southwest Kansas, CEO Benjamin Anderson is recruiting primary care providers not by pointing to all the advantages the community offers, but by highlighting its most severe needs. And to further appeal to prospective providers’ desire to do meaningful work, Anderson offers candidates eight weeks off to do missionary or other service work overseas. Anderson hopes to find providers who are engaged and motivated by the challenges associated with providing care in a rural community.

“When you recruit a mission-focused provider…,” Anderson said, “they want to know that there's no Spanish-speaking provider in more than a one-hour drive. They want to see houses that are falling down, widows that are uncared for. They want to know that there's need and that by them coming there, they would fill a disparity that would otherwise not be filled.”

Specialization also poses a challenge to building the primary-care workforce, the Washington Post reports. A medical resident who chooses a specialty over general primary care has the potential to earn millions more over a lifetime, making it an attractive option to the often deeply in debt medical student.

Last summer the White House launched the Primary Care Residency Expansion, providing financial support for three-year primary care residency training programs at 82 hospitals around the country. Participating residents are required to work in underserved areas. All of the 172 slots funded in the first year of the program have been filled, the story reports.

What do you think? How can we recruit more primary care physicians for general practice or in underserved areas? Register below to leave a comment.

Listen to the NPR story.

Read the Washington Post story.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.