Demographics and medical school exposures to rural health influence future practice

Published:September 17, 2022DOI:



      One-fifth of the US population lives in rural areas. A record number of rural hospitals have closed, creating increased burdens on regional centers and delays in care. This study aimed to assess medical student perceptions of rural surgery and health care, and to elucidate influential factors for future practice.


      We administered a survey to medical schools throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The survey was designed and evaluated by a survey content expert and piloted among a group of students. Student and faculty liaisons disseminated the survey between February and May 2021. Descriptive analysis of data was completed using Stata v.16.1 (StataCorp, LLC, College Station, TX).


      The respondents included 700 medical students; 59.5% were female, with an equal distribution across medical school classes. More than 98% of students believe we “lack” or “are in great need of” rural health care providers, as well as rural surgeons; however, more than half of the students did not agree that the rural workforce is declining. Only 15.7% of students reported an interest in “pursuing a future career in a rural setting.” Students with exposure to rural health care, coming from a rural hometown, or having a dependent had a positive association with interest in pursuing rural practice.


      Although students are aware of the lack of rural surgeons and health care providers, there remains an educational deficit. Expanding exposure to rural health care and surgery while in medical school may increase the number of students interested in pursuing a career in a rural setting, potentially shrinking the rural workforce gap.
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