Recently the Colorado Rural Health Center held a highly informative and well-attended forum that included experts from across the state discussing issues, resources and research affecting the delivery of health care across Colorado’s rural areas.
Representatives from HealthCareAwareColorado.org, an event sponsor attended a session during which Melissa Bosworth, director of workforce and outreach for the Colorado Rural Health Center, shared her research on Population Health Outcomes and Rural Physician Longevity. While the data was compelling, what struck us most in the session was the energetic discussion from nurse practitioners, physicians and experts about what it takes to recruit and retain a doctor in one of Colorado’s rural communities.
Only 39.7 percent of physicians were retained from 2008 – 2012 in our rural counties.
Colorado boasts some of the country’s most stunning natural beauty. From mountain communities to fertile eastern plains, our state has something for everyone. Most people would give their right arm to have a secure, well-paying job in a beautiful Colorado setting. Yet it’s all too clear that our rural communities are suffering for lack of physicians. An all-too-frequent scenario is a physician departing a rural community for a more urban atmosphere, which can be detrimental in many ways because a departed physician usually costs the overall community thousands in training, recruitment and investment costs.
So what can rural communities do?
In many cases, it appears physicians and other health practitioners are coming to Colorado’s rural communities mostly due to the Colorado Health Services Corps or other programs that help with school loan repayment.
Discussions at this session focused on ways to help integrate a new physician into the town. Do they have a social network, or do they feel isolated as the new person in a tightly knit community? Do they have families?
We know when families move and become a part of the school atmosphere they feel more connected. And of course, the discussion focused on money. Doctors in rural communities are paid lower, on average, than those in urban settings. What can we do to help bring these payments in line? Some are suggesting a tax credit for practitioners in rural settings. That might be a good start.
There is no simple solution. It’s clear that working in a rural community requires a special kind of doctor. One who enjoys the natural splendor of Colorado, wants to be part of a community – even a leader in their community – and one who views medicine more as a calling than as a profession.
Let’s have a big ideas discussion. What can we do to help retain physicians in rural communities? No idea is too small, too strange or too difficult to implement. Let’s hear them. And if you have a story about the importance of having accessible care in your community, tell us about it.