Having spent much of my professional life working in staffing locum tenens doctors and traveling nurses, I have seen the struggle administrators have filling positions in rural communities. I’ve also seen first-hand the impacts of those willing to fill in on temporary assignments in those small towns.
It’s no secret that we have a physician shortage in this country; it’s well documented. For those living in medically underserved communities, this shortage can feel even more significant.
It’s reported that nearly 80% of rural America is medically underserved. According to the National Rural Health Association, there are fewer than 40 physicians per 100,000 people in rural locations.
Farmers missing checkups because their doctor is 100 or more miles away is not uncommon. And the time and distance required to see a specialist can be drastically greater.
We also know that little health flareups can become severe emergencies over time if not treated. For those in rural America, it can feel like just a part of life.
This issue was brought to my attention, yet again, a few weeks ago when I came across a Washington Post article about the difficulties facing rural doctors. While I wish we had more answers for how to fix the problem, I was glad to see a bright spotlight shining in the national media on such an important topic—if for no other reason than to remind us all to not lose focus.
As healthcare professionals, we have committed to making this better. Administrators take every opportunity to draw doctors out of the cities and into the country. From offering healthy financial incentives to appealing to a different way of life, they’re doing what they can to attract skilled doctors.
However, we know doctors can’t always uproot their families and move to the country (though, if you’re interested in doing so, we can definitely help you get there!).
Many doctors find great satisfaction in moving away from the big city for more open space and a slower pace of life in the country, and are then surprised to discover that—because they’re often times “doing it all”—they gain greater opportunities to use more of their training and build experiences far beyond their specialty.
Attempts to bridge the gap have included many tracks. Expanding care with physician assistants and nurse practitioners has helped ease some of the pressure. Telemedicine, video appointments, and remote access are also progressive approaches that have helped gain some ground.
But in many cases, a second doctor is just the prescription a small community needs.
More than 40 years ago, locum tenens was created for this very purpose. The idea was simple: bring care to those in medically underserved areas. Today, it continues to be a lifeline for many of the physicians and staff who work tirelessly in those areas with little to no help.
Small towns, government facilities, and tribal lands are just some of the areas locum tenens doctors can work. These are often in unique and beautiful areas and can offer great opportunities to explore personal passions and recreation opportunities as well.
In my current role with Weatherby Healthcare, I’ve heard story after story of locum tenens doctors making a very real and powerful difference.
Dr. John Gray chooses to provide care in underserved areas because, as he says, “that’s what I grew up with.” The chance to give back drew him out of private practice and back to a small town.
For Dr. Jim Mock, an emergency physician, working locums in rural locations has helped him fill a need within himself, and he finds the work rewarding. Additionally, as an avid mountain biker, he finds the assignments suit both his work and life interests.
Dr. Edwin Leap, another emergency physician, says, “Rural America is a fantastic place to practice emergency medicine. Because there are fewer specialists in rural areas, emergency physicians can use the full range of their training.” He goes on to say, “Small, rural hospitals see the same life-threatening conditions as more urban centers; the only difference is that they do more with less.”
There is no one single answer to solving the issue of providing care in medically underserved areas, just as there is no one single decision or choice a doctor can make in how to steer their career. What we know is that rural America needs you.
If you’re interested in relocating, or in giving locum tenens a try, contact a staffing agency. You may have more options than you realize. And who knows, going small may be the biggest and best decision you can make for your career.