Survey: Market may be shifting as more physicians willing to consider rural practices

Physicians, administrators consider factors such as compensation, autonomy.

A new study suggests up to 90% of physicians may be more willing to consider rural practices.

However, the findings showed a disconnect between doctors and administrators on salaries and physician autonomy.

Permanent physician recruitment firm Jackson Physician Search and temporary physician staffing firm LocumTenens.com announced the study “Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey Results.”

According to a news release, it suggested the market could be shifting, with 90% of surveyed physicians indicating they have some level of openness to considering rural practice.

"Our findings provide a recruitment roadmap for rural healthcare," Jackson Physician Search President Tony Stajduhar said in the news release. "Considering the reality that 20% of the population lives in rural areas — yet only about 10% of physicians practice there — combined with COVID-prompted early retirements and job changes, these new insights suggest that rural healthcare organizations can more effectively market open positions by better understanding what physicians want and need."

The survey of 1,311 physicians and 169 administrators, as well as 158 advanced practice providers, explored the dynamics of working in rural, suburban and urban healthcare environments and how physicians think about rural practice opportunities.

The study found physicians who are currently practicing in urban and suburban locations are looking for higher compensation, bonuses and benefits (64%), more flexible hours (47%) and improved work-life balance (46%). Many are open to finding those characteristics in a rural opportunity, according to the survey.

"This suggests that if physicians are well paid and assured of better work-life balance, a rural location may be less of a negative factor than once believed," Stajduhar said.

Administrators ranked compensation as the fifth most important factor, indicating there's a disconnect that must be overcome, the release said.

Physicians and administrators agreed on the top factors influencing physician retention, but 55% of physicians placed greater value on higher compensation, bonuses and benefits, compared to 37% of administrators, the study said.

Meanwhile, administrators underestimate the importance of providing physician autonomy in a facility’s culture, according to the study.

Among administrators, 24% felt it's an attribute of culture that most appeals to physicians. But 40% of physicians, regardless of practice location, ranked it as the most important aspect of culture, the news release said.

"We have long advocated that physician retention begins with recruitment," Stajduhar said. "And this survey confirms that finding the right cultural 'fit' is the first step. Understanding what physicians value most in a facility's culture and the factors that will motivate them to stay can go a long way towards making a good match and keeping them long term."

Administrators were asked if they might consider locum tenens in their staffing strategies. Physicians who don't already work in a rural setting were asked if they might consider a locum tenens assignment to "try out" a rural location — and 72% of physicians responded favorably, according to the survey.