Rural Rearrangements of the Deck Chairs

Comprehensive Rural Programs Are Not Enough to Overcome US Maldistribution By Design
There is no evidence that Rural Programs in Medical Schools actually increase rural workforce when considering the outcomes of the parent schools. Even with expansions of annual graduates in the parent schools, there has been no improvement. There is nothing wrong with rural programming. It is possible that health access outcomes could decline without rural programming or it might be possible to demonstrate problems resulting from inadequate preparation for the demands of rural practice. The fact is that rural programming has not been able to overcome overall changes in the US health design. Rural programming has not been able to keep up with population changes that increase demand such as increases in elderly, poor, and lower income patients. Lack of health spending for rural populations is the likely reason why rural programming or generic expansions are unable to improve rural access to care. In some ways rural programming can be seen as preventing solutions for health access that require increased spending in primary care, in rural locations, and in locations underserved for workforce.
New Rounds of Publications Emerge
Comprehensive Rural Programs have been promoted as health access solutions in new publications. Unfortunately the efforts of Duluth, the Rural Physician Associates Program, the Rockford program, and the Physician Shortages Area Program have not improved the rural, primary care, or family medicine outcomes when considering the parent schools of these programs - the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois, or Jefferson.
Defeat of Rural Programming Due to Individual School Family Medicine Collapse or Decline
Declines in family medicine for Mercer from 32% to 3% will take Mercer from a top ranking proportion of graduates found in rural, found in underserved, and found in rural underserved areas to less than the national average.

The WWAMI program has long been promoted as a solution for states in need of workforce, even as states such as Alaska spend 1 million more dollars a year on primary care recruitment, retention, and locums costs alone. WWAMI has the same problem as all rural models - it leaks. The graduates have not been required to stay instate or in needed careers. The graduates are not admitted with a commitment instate or to family medicine or to rural practice or to underserved practice. The major WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) state needs remain the same - family physicians. With inadequate family physicians, locations in need of workforce are forced to pay more and more to get the same or less workforce.

Marginal and underserved rural proportions have certainly not improved for the University of Washington in the AMA Masterfile. There was an 11% proportion prior to WAMI and down to the 8 - 9% level for 1994 - 2000 graduates. The 20 - 30% family medicine level is now down to one-third this level. The rural contribution of the University of Washington have not improved at best and there are indications of steady declines. 

The main reason for success and failure appears to be the same reason. During 1965 to 1980 the United States poured billions into health care and much of this went to marginal and underserved locations with high proportions of Medicare and Medicaid patients. The 1980s cost cutting designs with increasing costs of delivering care and less revenue resulted in declines. Then the 1990s again injected funding specific to rural locations and primary care where needed for a few years before returning to cost cutting and major declines across all graduating classes of MD, DO, NP, and PA.
The University of Washington and the University of North Carolina have also been used as examples of medical schools that can accomplish dual roles of research and health access. Together all of the parent schools with rural programming actually barely keep above the US average regarding needed rural outcomes.
  • Medical schools that do much better for rural outcomes are medical schools in rural locations.
  • Osteopathic public medical schools have also been outstanding sources of rural physicians, instate physicians, and family medicine.
  • Medical schools in the South also contribute more rural physicians, but this has to do with higher levels of rural population
  • Medical schools in the Midwest also contribute more rural physicians for the same reasons - a state with a higher proportion of rural workforce.
What is most evident is little change at all - before or after rural programming.
Thirty Years of Health Access Workforce Prevention
The creation of osteopathic public medical schools was only 1970 to 1980 and further osteopathic public schools have been prevented for 30 years. At the heart of the successes of all the medical schools associated with rural workforce is family medicine, also prevented from expansion for 30 years by the US design. This remaining permanent primary care choice is difficult when primary care is marginalized, when the practice locations most common to family physicians receive the least health spending, and when many of the locations preferred by medical students are locations that have lowest percentages of workforce in family medicine. Family physicians can be tracked as steadily moving away
The University of Nebraska is another example of declines in instate, primary care, and rural workforce due to changes in family medicine and admission. The University of Nebraska has established a number of different rural programs involving 8th grade to retention in rural practice. Unfortunately a decline to 2 - 3% family medicine choice for the great majority entering from major metro origins defeats the overall rural programming (last 4 matches at UNMC). The proportion entering from out of state and instate metro areas continues to increase (40% to 50% to 60%) and this proportion has 4 to 5 times lower choice of family medicine than in recent decades. It is difficult to fill graduate programs that do address Nebraska’s health access needs without family medicine choice. As more UNMC graduates depart the state for training and for practice, UNMC will no longer be able to keep up its contribution of half of Nebraska workforce - particularly as seniors double from 2010 to 2030.
Chen in Academic Medicine suggested that rural training tracks triple rural location in the graduates of a family medicine residency. Actually this is not specific to rural programming. simple choice of family medicine is enough to triple rural location, even when controlling for physician origins, type of medical school, and state practice location type.
Rural programs and tracks are small. Rural efforts are dependent upon sources of students that are declining (lower and middle income origin, lower and middle population density origin, children not of professional parents, rural interested, family medicine interested, first generation to college). Graduate medical education rural efforts can only exist when programs fill their residency positions (more difficult, not the best fit types chosen). Also the higher proportions of health access workforce in existing rural programs is easily overcome by the much lower and declining health access outcomes of much larger non-rural or traditional components.
The existence of such rural programming within a state or school appears to rearrange who chooses such programming without actually increasing desired outcomes. The outcomes are worse when considering entire careers of contribution due to lack of instate retention, declining primary care retention in the years after graduation from primary care training programs, and declining retention in rural locations.

Only complete school designs have made top contributions to rural workforce including rural located medical schools and osteopathic public schools. Only the family medicine proportion can be consistently demonstrated to have top health access contributions. Except in a few states (states that tend to have top workforce concentrations that drive FM out), family medicine is also associated with top instate retention. This is noted in University of Kansas graduates choosing family medicine that have 16 times greater instate rural location compared to U of KS grads not choosing family medicine. Family medicine has been the result of admission of students with factors contributing to instate most needed health access and family medicine contributes to instate most needed health access.

Graham Center Policy One-Pager    Comprehensive Medical School Rural Programs Produce Rural Family Physicians    While the title is true, the parent institutions do not have overall rural workforce gains. Also the parent institutions have barely above average rural contributions.

Which Medical Schools Produce Rural Physicians - a 15 year update

This is Blog Number 50 for Basic Health Access Blog begun in 2011.

Rural Medical Education Specific Blogs and Links
Rural Workforce 2000 to 2010 Uncle Sam says "I want you" to serve in rural locations. Uncle Sam's design says "I don't want you" to serve in rural locations. Dozens of special programs can no longer hide the fact of an aberrant basic design that fails rural Americans.
Atlas of Basic Health Access at the World of Rural Medical Education

Barriers To Primary Care Innovation Regarding Training: Too Many Stages in the Path Too many steps, Too many separations, Too many leaks in the pipeline, Too little yield across the segments, Too many accreditations, Too many funding sources, Too many (non-health access interested parties) determining training curricula, and very few focused on basic health access

Pounding Poverty Providers with Pay for Performance Designs that send even less dollars to those who care for most Americans are the reason for health access problems. Pay for Performance designs make matters worse resulting for gains in revenue for those that care for patients who naturally have better outcomes and no gain for those who care for the more complex patients. 

Speak Your Piece: Measuring Rural Health Care  Rural health care providers are paid less to provide treatment to a population that is more likely to be poor than those in the cities. Now medical researchers are saying rural hospitals don't provide the same quality of care as those city institutions that have more money and richer patients. Well......Which is it, JAMA? Where is your consistency in articles regarding quality of care? If you choose some authors that consider social determinants and other important limitations but ignore these factors in other publications, this causes confusion. 
Rural Primary Care: Stark Realities All primary care sources have declined in primary care per graduate and in rural primary care delivery per graduate. The rural Standard Primary Care Year contributions over the class years illustrate the declines in rural primary care delivery.

Non-Specific Rural Pipelines or Specific Long Term Obligations  Voluntary choice allows potential rural physicians to steadily leak away with each year of training and practice. Only very specific shaping is most likely to result in early, middle, and late career rural contributions. 
Preparing for Health Care Cuts This is not good news for rural workforce. No administration in the past 30 years has really understood the problems that result in insufficient rural workforce and matters may be even worse in 2012 and beyond.
Thanks to all 12,000 who have visited Basic Health Access in 2011.

Robert C. Bowman, M.D.        Basic Health Access Web    Basic Health Access Blog

Dr. Bowman is the North American Co-Editor of Rural and Remote Health and a Professor in Family Medicine at A T Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He was the founding chair of the Rural Medical Educators Group of the National Rural Health Association, he was the long term chair of the STFM Group on Rural Health, he is the founding director of Priority Infrastructure at and he is the author of the World of Rural Medical Education, and Physician Workforce Studies


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