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Factors influencing family physicians to enter rural practice: does rural or urban background make a difference?

Chan BT, Degani N, Crichton T, Pong RW, Rourke JT, Goertzen J, McCready B. Can Fam Physician. 2005; 51(9):1246-7.


Objective — To examine where rural physicians grew up, when during their training they became interested in rural medicine, factors influencing their decision to practise rural medicine, and differences in these measures according to rural or urban upbringing.

Design — Mailed survey.

Setting — Rural Canada.

Participants — Rural family physicians who graduated between 1991 and 2000 from a Canadian medical school.

Main Outcome Measures — Backgrounds of recently graduated rural physicians, when physicians first became interested in rural practice during training, and most influential factors in decisions to practise rural medicine.

Results — Response rate was 59% (382/651). About 33% of rural physicians grew up in communities of less than 10 000 people, 44% in cities of 10 000 to 499 999 people, and 23% in cities of more than 500 000 people. Physicians raised in rural areas were more likely than those raised in urban areas to have some interest in rural family practice at the start and end of medical school (90% vs 67% at the start, 98% vs 91% at the end, respectively, P < .0001). Physicians raised in urban areas were more likely to state that rural medical training was the most influential factor in their choice of rural practice (19% vs 9%, P = .015). Other factors cited as influential were the challenge of rural practice (24% for both urban and rural upbringing), rural lifestyle (14% for urban and 18% for rural upbringing) and, for physicians raised in rural areas, having grown up or spent time in a rural area (27% for rural and 4.1% for urban upbringing, P < .001). Financial incentives were least frequently cited as the most influential factor (7.5% for urban and 4.9% for rural upbringing, P = .35).

Conclusion — Although other studies have suggested that physicians with a rural upbringing are more likely to practise rural medicine and policy makers might still wish to target students raised in rural areas as candidates for rural medicine, this study shows that physicians raised in urban areas remain the main source of human resources for rural communities. They account for two thirds of new physicians in rural areas. Education in rural medicine during medical training has a stronger influence on physicians raised in urban areas than on physicians raised in rural areas. Undergraduate and postgraduate training periods, therefore, offer an important opportunity for recruiting physicians raised in urban areas to rural practice.

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Keywords: Rural/northern health services Primary care/clinical practice Medical education and training

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