Rural Residency is One Path to Family Medicine

Residency is the last step to becoming a full-fledged clinician. It can be the toughest year of a new physician’s life, particularly when residency takes that person into an extremely busy environment where there’s never enough time and rest is fleeting. However, there is another way: rural residency.

There is a growing need for just about every medical specialty in America’s rural environments. Family medicine is especially important given that it is the foundation of healthcare itself. Yet attracting doctors to rural areas is a daunting task. Establishing rural residencies could be part of the solution. A rural residency benefits healthcare clinic, clinician, and patient alike.

The State of Rural Medicine

Data shows that the ongoing physician shortage has hit rural America especially hard. Family medicine is obviously suffering, but it’s not alone. According to the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) some 25% of all rural hospitals in the U.S. will close within the next decade. That, despite the fact that rural hospitals provide care to nearly 62 million patients.

The NRHA further estimates that just 9% of practicing clinicians work in rural areas despite the fact that 20% of the U.S. population lives in those areas. It is clear from the numbers that changes are needed. That’s where rural residencies come into play.

Providing Care and Training

In Pittsburg, Kansas, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas is looking forward to having a family medicine resident on board. This is new for them. The residency program making it possible is just one of 27 programs across the country be implemented through grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration. The Administration has awarded some $20 million to establish rural residency training programs that will be accredited through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Each of these residency programs will focus on family medicine, internal medicine, and psychiatry. Residents will embark on one-year residencies during which time they will receive the final bit of training required to practice by themselves. Meanwhile, rural residents will finally have access to the care they need.

The beauty of the residency program is that it provides both care and training. Patients in need of family medicine services have access to doctors ready and willing to care for them. At the same time, residents have the opportunity to finish up their training while learning more about their chosen specialty in a real-world setting. It’s a win-win.

Reasons to Choose a Rural Residency

Rural residencies are good for patient and clinic, but what about the resident? Why would he or she choose a rural residency rather than going to a big-name hospital in a high-powered city?

One of the biggest benefits to residents is that working in a rural setting is not nearly as psychologically, physically, and emotionally demanding. Life in rural America moves at a slower pace. Rural Americans are not always on the go. Everyone takes time to slow down and breathe. That generally means a much more controlled pace in the office.

Rural residencies give new doctors the time and space to learn the finer details of their specialties in an environment that is less competitive. They can focus more on getting the full value of their training rather than having to constantly worry whether they’re staying ahead of everyone else.

In short, a rural residency in family medicine represents an opportunity to learn in a less stressful environment. At the same time, the resident gets to provide compassionate care to people who might not have access to family medicine without a residency program.