Rural areas have 25% of the population, and yet they've got only 9% of the physicians. The problem: physician recruitment and retention. The solution: it's easier than you think.
Earlier this week, I was a featured speaker at the annual conference for the California Association of Rural Health Clinics. My presentation was titled “Physician and Key Healthcare Employee Recruitment and Retention.” This is a very hot topic within the rural healthcare community because it’s an enormous challenge.
It’s one thing to look at statistics, it’s an entirely different thing to talk to people who live every day right there on the front lines. This is a real problem that affects all Americans. Moreover, the problem is growing and will continue to grow, but first let’s look at the statistics.
One-quarter of the US population lives in a rural area, so you would think they would need 25% of the physicians... right? Wrong!
Rural areas need more than 25% of the physicians, because people in rural areas are sicker than the people in the greater metropolitan areas and here’s why:
People in rural areas tend to be, on average, poorer and less educated, and more likely to lead unhealthy lifestyles. They smoke at higher rates, drink more alcohol, exercise less, and have a poorer diet. As a result, by middle-age those who live in rural areas tend to have higher rates of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and diabetes. Clearly this 25% of the population needs more than 25% of the physicians, but they only have 9% of the physicians.
To make matters worse, the rural population is getting bigger because we’re living longer, yet the pool of physicians is shrinking because more physicians are retiring than coming out of medical school.
The majority of physicians in rural areas are fresh out of residency, and they lack experience. In most cases they only put in a year on the job to get some experience under their belt. In addition to their salary, they want some of their medical school debt paid off, they want relocation expenses, and then after their first year they move on. The situation is putting stress on an overtaxed rural healthcare system, and on overworked administrators, who are doing their absolute best to deliver healthcare.
I admire these unsung heroes; they are doing a very tough job, and it gets tougher with every year that goes by, and they stick it out. They've earned my help and they've earned your help.
After my presentation at the conference, everyone agreed that offering a lifetime pension plan in exchange for 10 to 15 years of service as a way to attract and retain older, more experienced physicians long term, would do a lot to help solve the problem. They instantly saw it as a way to overcome the huge challenge of recruitment and retention. The finance guys instantly saw it as a way to seriously cut overwhelming turnover costs.
Pension plans will help the rural medical community in all parts of the country, and coming very soon is an army of older and more experienced physicians. They will be drawn by the American dream that up until now has alluded them, it’s the American dream of a secure retirement.
Absolutely make sure you come back here next week for another edition of The Alemian File.