Family physicians dominate rural areas

February 15, 2012

Family physicians provide more care to rural areas than any other specialty. See how education is driving this development.

Family physicians provide more healthcare to rural areas than other primary care or subspecialty physicians, according to data released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The data, part of the “Facts and Stats” series based on research by the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, show that 22.5% of family physicians practice in rural areas, compared with 9.7% of all physicians.

“These data confirm that family physicians continue to be the first contact for rural Americans needing medical care,” said American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) President Glen Stream, MD, MBI, in a statement. “At the same time, it indicates that we need to do more to recruit students from rural areas into our medical schools.”

The AAFP has urged medical educators to adopt admissions policies that actively recruit students from rural areas. Several schools have responded with comprehensive rural programs. Between 45% and 76% of graduates from these programs practice in rural areas.

Rural family medicine residency training programs are an important contributor to family physicians choosing and being prepared to practice in rural areas, according to Stream.

“Although family physicians and nurse practitioners are making a dent in meeting the demand for care among rural Americans, it’s clear our education policy needs to encourage more people to go into family medicine and rural practice,” he said. “As we work to address the problems of rural access to health care, we need to first look at the medical education system and its role in filling the primary care and rural care pipeline.”

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