There is a persistent rural physician shortage in the United States. Policies to scale up the health workforce in response to this shortage must include measures to draw and maintain existing and newly trained health care workers to rural regions. Prior studies have found that experience in community medicine in rural practice settings increases the likelihood of medical graduates practicing in those regions but have not accounted for selection bias. This study examined the impact of a community-based clinical immersion program on medical graduates’ decision to work in rural regions, adjusting for covariates to control for selection bias.
Data on sociodemographic characteristics and career interests and preferences for all 1,172 University of Washington School of Medicine graduates between 2009 and 2014 were collected. A logistic model (model 1) was used to evaluate the impact of Rural Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) participation on the probability of physicians working in a rural region. Another model (model 2) included the propensity score as a covariate in the regression to control for possible confounding based on differences among those who did and did not participate in the RUOP.
Of the 994 students included in the analysis, 570 (57.3%) participated in RUOP training, and 111 (11.2%) were currently working in rural communities after their training. Regression analysis results showed that the odds of working in a rural region were 1.83 times higher for graduates who participated in RUOP in model 1 (P = .03) and 1.77 times higher in model 2 (P = .04).
The findings of this study emphasize that educational programs and policies are crucial public health interventions that can promote health equity through proper distribution of health care workers across rural regions of the United States.