There is little written about the scope of rural plastic surgery within the United States. Approximately 25 million people do not have immediate access to a plastic surgeon. Most areas are designated as rural, and this lack of specialty care can result in suboptimal care. Physicians are more likely to move to a rural area if they have prior life experience with rural areas, but exposure to rural plastic surgery in residency training is scarce. We attempted to examine the practice characteristics of rural plastic surgeons within the United States to (a) to better define the average rural plastic surgery practice and (b) to highlight the broad scope of practice of the rural plastic surgeon to educate both hospital administrators and our physician colleagues of the impact and benefit a plastic surgeon can have on a health system.
A survey was e-mailed to surgeons identified as rural plastic surgeons who practiced in communities with fewer than 50,000 people not located in a metropolitan area. Thirty-four surgeons were identified and 12 responded to the survey.
Respondents on average were 56 years old and had practiced for 14.3 years. At the time of the survey, 33% practiced in a hospital-employed group practice, and 33% operated in a hospital that is part of a health system. Seventy-five percent did not complete fellowship training, but 67% believed that fellowship training would be beneficial to someone interested in rural plastic surgery. Seventy-five percent recommended hand surgery as the most beneficial fellowship. Eighty-three percent had prior experiences with rural surgery before starting their practice. Average case volume ranged from 150 to more than 1000 cases per year and spanned the spectrum of plastic surgery. Potential barriers to practicing rural plastic surgery included call responsibility and facility limitations.
A career in rural plastic surgery offers great variety encompassing the spectrum of plastic surgery. Most agreed that hand fellowship would be the most beneficial fellowship. Most had prior experience with rural surgery before seeking a career in rural plastic surgery, highlighting the importance of increasing awareness of these opportunities.