It’s no secret that healthcare services are limited in rural areas of the United States. The National Rural Health Association states that there are fewer than 40 physicians per 100,000 people in rural locations, compared to more than 53 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas. This lack of services in large swaths of the country means the demand for doctors is high — and locum tenens doctors can help fill the rural healthcare gap. But despite the great need, many physicians are reluctant to head out to rural America. These three doctors share why they’ve accepted rural locum tenens assignments and why they think you should too.
Practicing the full range of medicine
Dr. Edwin Leap is an emergency medicine physician who’s spent most of his career working in rural areas. Starting at a small facility in the rural Southeast, he eventually began working locums full-time. Despite having the option to work anywhere in the country, he still tends to choose assignments in smaller, more rural areas.
“Rural America is a fantastic place to practice emergency medicine,” Dr. Leap says. Because there are fewer specialists in rural areas, emergency physicians can use the full range of their training. “Small, rural hospitals see the same life-threatening conditions as more urban centers,” he says. The only difference is that the “physicians do more with less.”
In addition to the increased responsibility and autonomy involved with patient care, rural locum tenens doctors may also experience a different pace of life. Dr. Leap recalls working at facilities where the slower rate of admits allowed him “the opportunity to see a few patients, rest, and eat. It also allows docs the time to think and time to listen to the stories of their various charming patients.”
For physicians who want to really hone their skills or reduce the chance of burnout, a rural location might just be the solution.
Providing service to underserved populations
Dr. J. Bradley Hassell is a psychiatrist from Mobile, Alabama, who frequently takes locums assignments in rural locations. “It seems like lately the places with the most demand for my type of services have been more rural areas, or very small cities that have a large medical center but still don’t really have the psychiatric coverage to take care of the demand,” he says.
That lack of coverage, combined with Dr. Hassell’s desire to make a difference in his patients’ lives, has prompted him to accept assignments in remote places. “I was working at a facility in South Dakota that had one of the largest geographic coverage areas in the nation,” he remembers. “In basically two or three states, there’s one hospital, kind of centrally located, and people will drive five hours to go to that hospital.”
Treating patients isn’t the only reason Dr. Hassell enjoys traveling to far-flung locations — he also enjoys meeting people from all over the country. “I didn’t have the opportunity to really live in a whole lot of places,” he says. “For me to be able to get out and see different areas is fantastic. One of the things I found out is no matter where I go, I find good people.”
Discovering the charm of rural America
Like his colleagues, Dr. Jim Mock, an emergency medicine physician, works locums in rural locations because he can help fill a need and finds the work rewarding. But it’s also an opportunity to pursue one of his favorite hobbies when not in the ER.
“I race and ride mountain bikes so it’s not by accident that some of my assignments just happen to end up in hospitals next to some of the best mountain bike trails around,” he says.
Having an outlet to pursue his passion is a way that Dr. Mock finds balance in his life, and he frequently schedules his work around the opportunity to ride in the woods. Working locums “enables me to spend time with my family, make a good living, and mountain bike to my heart’s content,” he says.
What’s your reason?
Whether you want to put your skills to use, care for underserved populations, or simply desire a change of scenery, working rural locum tenens comes with a lot of benefits. The great thing about locum tenens is that it allows you to practice medicine in a variety of environments. And it’s likely that you’ll receive just as much as you’re giving back.
“I believe that the citizens of rural America deserve the same quality care as everyone else,” says Dr. Leap. “When a qualified physician works in that small, rural center, he or she brings a wonderful gift to the community. This is true whether it involves one shift or a dozen. People need good physicians, especially when they have less access to advanced care.”