Practicing medicine in a rural community where doctors are few and far between can be a daunting prospect, but medical school professors and students who concentrate on rural medicine say that the challenge is worth taking on.
Experts say rural medicine can be fascinating because of the variety of health problems that doctors confront on a daily basis. Because rural doctors are often either the only doctor in a town or one of very few doctors in a region, experts say they are called upon to perform a wider-range of procedures than their peers in areas where doctors are plentiful.
"It helps keep your mind fresh with the many different things that could walk through the door," says Dr. Michael Maharry, a clinical associate professor of family medicine with the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine and director at the school's Carver Rural Iowa Scholars Program. "It could be gynecology, it could be psychiatry or orthopedic issues, and so your skill set needs to be broad to be able to manage that."
For those considering a rural medicine concentration either during medical school or in residency programs, here are five questions to ask to decide whether it is the right choice for you.
1. Are you passionate about public service? Experts say rural medicine typically requires practitioners to be more resourceful than doctors in a community that has abundant access to medical care, which means that it is important to have a sense of mission.
Dr. Adam Law, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University and chair of the graduate medical education committee with Cayuga Medical Center, says: "One of the things that motivates people to go to medical school is to help people, and I think there's an enormous need in rural areas.