Policy: Attracting Rural Physicians
Enabling rural vitality means ensuring people living in the rural parts of Minnesota have access to the medical care they need. That includes both mental health care and physical health care. Some of that can be covered by telehealth, although for that we need a better rural broadband system which I’ve written about here. We still need a greater number of physicians physically present in the district though. Across the nation, 20% of our population live in rural areas, but only 11% of our physicians do.
When my wife was in dental school at the University of Iowa, I remember a small town mayor coming to the school and offering big tax breaks to anyone who agreed to start a practice there. Combining that with student loan forgiveness is certainly one approach we can look at, but we need to do more about this problem than throw money at it.
Ensuring rural medicine is included in medical education and recruitment is vital. The University of Minnesota has the Rural Physician Associate Program. Of its graduates, two thirds go on to practice in Minnesota and 40% of those practice in rural locations here. That’s a good outcome, but the problem is the number of people entering these sorts of programs.
People who grew up in rural areas are most likely to return and start a medical practice there. Unfortunately, the number of med school students who are from rural areas hit a 15-year low in 2017. From that study, “If the number of rural students entering medical school were to become proportional to the share of rural residents in the US population, the number would have to quadruple.”
I’ve written in the past about ensuring our high schoolers can have on-the-job training and experiences as part of their curriculum. Jump starting careers in medicine helps both the student and the whole community for. Students from rural areas need to be empowered to be able to make the choice to enter any number of STEM fields.
We can absolutely have financial incentives in place and our medical schools can require rural medicine rotations. I don’t want to downplay the effectiveness of either of those. But to get physicians who have their practice physically in the district, we need to ensure our rural students, both high school and collegiate, have the same access to information and resources for med school applications and careers as students in the rest of the state do.