Why We Need A More Cohesive Rural Medicine Support Group Online

This month’s issue of The American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics is entirely focused on rural medicine. With that said, it is time for me to make a confession: I belong to a physician shortage program. There – I said it. Contrary to what many may think, I didn’t initially plan on applying to the program, and didn’t apply as an attempt to circumvent the regular admission process either. I grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town with a father who ran (and continues to run) a private primary care practice. I worked there on weekends and during the summers while in high school. In fact, I was one of those go-getters who “always wanted to be a doctor,” and didn’t really see the need for a rural medicine program to help me practice the type of medicine I had grown to love.

I was drawn to my program after I learned about its specifics. There is no commitment involved; that is, there is no penalty if I do not choose a career in rural medicine one day, and there is also no restriction on the types of specialties or subspecialties I can choose to pursue. Inclusion in such a program also helps when applying for scholarship through The National Health Service Corps, which provides federal funding for tuition and education expenses, to those medical students who are committed to rural health. However, in my opinion, the greatest advantage to my physician shortage program is its creation of an environment for students to sit down and talk about their interest in rural health without receiving the scorn of peers or other members of the medical community.

While I think of Polish food, coal breakers, the native slang, church picnics, and a high school class of 64 students as a rough definition of my home town, when I sat down to write this entry, I thought I should probably have some iota of a clue as how to define a rural area. The US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service does an excellent job. The next step was to find some statistics about the state of rural medicine in the US, but before I could find any real numbers, I made a few qualitative observations. While my search turned up the websites for a number of medical institutions touting their rural programs (and their rankings, according to US News and World Report), I found few sites, blogs, interest groups, or even Twitter accounts geared to supporting the few adventurers who choose to take the path less traveled. The sites I did find were downright dismal. There was Rural Family Medicine, last updated in 2004, and Rural Medicine, which asked me to sign a petition to reactivate the site. I did find a Twitter account dedicated to the topic – @ruralmed, whose archives contained a whopping 7 tweets, the last of which is from May of 2009. I found only one blog dedicated to policy- related rural issues, Legal Ruralism,which contained 58 posts about healthcare amidst a sea of other topics. Mind you, I most definitely did not scour Google to the fullest extent; but the idea that the few sites I did find were located within Google’s top results – that is, the ones most frequently viewed – is disheartening. Interestingly, my own go-to rural health policy blog, Rural Health Voices, was not among any of these results. What would a young pre-medical student, not unlike myself a few years ago, think of physician shortage programs given these online search results?! Like my physician shortage program has a place at my medical school, so too should physician shortage interest groups find a prominent place amidst the vast expanse of the World Wide Web.

The truth is many medical professionals, pride themselves on selfless care of the underserved – uninsured, homeless, refugee, you name it – but very few stop and take the time to consider those patients living in areas like my quiet PA hometown to have limited access to healthcare. Unfortunately, while rural hospitals and clinics are not short of underserved patients, they are lacking in funds, a substantial workforce, research opportunities, and career advancement possibilities that so many type-A, goal-oriented physicians seek. I fully understand that there are a variety of reasons for not pursuing a career in rural health (I hear them repeatedly from some of my peers), and as a second year student, I’m not even entirely sure where I’ll end up one day. However, I’m certainly not ruling out rural primary care as an option, so I’d love to hear some from those out there who feel the same way to identify some reputable online resources for rural medicine. Who’s with me!?

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7 thoughts on “Why We Need A More Cohesive Rural Medicine Support Group Online

  1. Yes, it disheartening to see such a lack of websites. Some osteopathic medical schools are emphasizing rural medicine or training in underserved communities, but what does that mean…exactly. How does one get the student to stay and practice in rural communities after rssidency?

  2. So well put. I’m in almost your identical boat, but I’m not going to practice rural medicine, not soon anyway. It bothers me, and my feelings are complicated, and not entirely relevant to your post.

    Rural docs NEED to get social, given their spatial remove. We have a rural ed program at SUNY Upstate,


    but there’s no social media presence at all.

    Maybe my advisor, who directs our RMed program, Dr. James Greenwald, would be interested in getting something going between the two programs to start a rural doc web presence? I could lean on him about the importance of what you’re talking about here, at least.

    • When I wrote this post I wanted to share my thoughts about med student physician shortage programs, and why they might not be popular among medical students. As I started writing, I noticed the dismal online representation and just went with it. With that said, I didn’t even get to touch on the spatial and financial reasons why rural docs might participate in social media, telemedicine, or online networking, which is another issue altogether. I think as future generations (read: current medical students) enter the work force, this spatial aspect will be less of an issue as we are much more familiar with online networking than our predecessors; considering health care reform and the upcoming changes in primary care, the financial incentives for social networking will likely increase as well. However, that doesn’t help the students currently considering rural medicine who may get steered away after being subjected to the negativity and bias of their peers and may not be aware of such impending changes. With that said, I think it’s most crucial that the doctors out there who are already practicing and using social media unite to help recruit the next generation of future physicians.

  3. Pingback: Rebranding Rural Medicine for Young Doctors — Maneland Media

  4. I have really enjoyed several of your posts, particularly this one. I am membership chair of the Rural Medical Educators and project director for a consortium of individuals and organizations committed to sustaining medical education in rural places. Please visit our student website at http://www.traindocsrural.org. I encourage you to join the student constituency group of the National Rural Health Association. If you would like to know more you can contact me me at randall.longenecker@osumc.edu

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