Calling the hospital or insurance provider could reveal which physicians are accepting new patients in your area. Your local hospital might even maintain a directory of doctors.
Small towns place great importance on recruiting primary care doctors as a top priority, and hospital officials often use social connections or signing bonuses as methods of recruitment; however, burnout rates among these doctors are high.
How many doctors are there?
Dr. Gerard Weigel arrived in Somerset, Kentucky, during the 1960s as its only primary care doctor – indeed, the sole physician of any kind in a rural area of 10,000 people. Driving his 1967 Mercury Monterey — “it looked just like Steve McGarrett’s car from Hawaii Five-O” – around town to visit patients’ homes where he treated everything from broken bones to heart attacks.
Small towns have seen their physician population slowly decline as baby boomers reach retirement age and fewer young physicians opt for primary care – leading to many family practices closing and leading to the closure of hospitals in rural communities. According to an NPR poll, one-third of Americans reported their local hospital closing or being forced shut due to insufficient health care providers.
Today, less than half of physicians own their practices, and this percentage decreases significantly among doctors under 40; thus, younger doctors are now much more likely to work for someone else than older counterparts.
So, those few physicians who choose to practice in smaller towns are stretched thin. Struggling to balance patient loads and meet ever-increasing systemic demands, burnout is high; for some physicians, this juggling act becomes so cumbersome they choose to leave altogether.
Hospitals face an ongoing search to recruit new doctors. Hospitals have taken creative approaches to find them: offering hefty signing bonuses, encouraging young doctors to volunteer as team physicians at nearby schools, or serving on planning committees for arts festivals are just a few strategies used to attract doctors.
Though rural America remains attractive as a career path for young doctors, convincing them to work there can still be challenging. According to data compiled by the Association of American Medical Colleges (2016), it may not offer as high an income potential; additionally, its hands-on healthcare providers may not fit well with modern millennials who prioritize convenience over continuity of care.
What are their specialties?
American medicine boasts many specialty fields, the most prevalent ones being general practice, family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics. Each specialty deals with diagnosing and treating specific illnesses or disorders; others focus on prevention or alleviation of symptoms.
An acute physician shortage exists in both urban and rural communities, and this shortage may increase as more baby boomers reach retirement age and physicians in training pursue career options other than primary care. According to estimates by the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be a shortage of 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.
Doctors-in-training have begun opting to work at multispecialty groups rather than running their single-specialty practices, which can be more lucrative and offer better work-life balance; however, this arrangement also creates additional pressure to fill appointments quickly, leading to burnout among healthcare workers – Wong has seen this problem both locally and nationwide where many hospitals hire outside consultants as replacements for absent or retiring physicians.
Rural patients can often feel under strain. They’ll describe riding out illnesses without treatment until they become life-threatening, then when they finally see a physician, it feels like starting over; due to high turnover among physicians, it makes it more challenging for them to build lasting relationships.
Medical schools have made efforts to attract more aspiring rural doctors by forging relationships with local communities to recruit students and train them in how to be practitioners in rural communities. One such program in New Mexico offers pre-med students the chance to live and learn in rural towns for part of their residency, with UNM doctors overseeing this experience.
Other schools are employing different strategies as well, including offering scholarships for rural students and creating unique programs designed to connect them with physicians in their community. At Iowa’s campus alone, this has included starting community clinics that give students hands-on experience treating rural patients.
Are they available to see me?
A shortage of doctors isn’t simply an abstract worry for urban neighborhoods and rural towns – it affects hundreds of communities nationwide. The US lacks enough physicians in many fields, such as rheumatology and obstetrics, as well as primary care doctors in small towns and poor city neighborhoods.
There was once a time when solo rural docs could set up shop in rural communities and focus solely on providing their medical needs, as seen on TV shows like Northern Exposure or Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. However, that idyllic lifestyle has given way to consolidated systems where doctors frequently change positions due to hospital networks being tied more than independent practices.
As a result, it has become more challenging to secure appointments with family physicians and urgent care doctors. Furthermore, those still practicing private medicine typically have set daily/weekly patient quotas they must see, which can limit personal attention from doctors.
Many residents in towns with only one doctor are frustrated by this circumstance, often delaying seeing medical assistance until their conditions worsen. Furthermore, these residents lament that doctors don’t know them or their families well, making it hard for them to build a trusting relationship with those treating them.
Hospital officials attempt to combat these trends by acting as social matchmakers for physicians working in rural America. For instance, they will ask doctors what sports they enjoy or suggest joining their local school board as a way of building connections in their community outside the clinic. Their goal is to find solutions so rural physicians can have both careers and lives outside of work.
How long will it take to get an appointment?
When you are sick or injured, the last thing you want is to have to wait months to see a doctor. From emergency room visits to primary care appointments with primary care physicians, long wait times can have devastating results on our health – particularly given how sicker Americans have become with more chronic illnesses that require visits more frequently to physicians than ever.
As medical professionals age and retire, this issue will only exacerbate. Wait times for appointments have steadily been growing nationwide and have even lengthened in some markets, according to Merritt Hawkins’ physician search firm – now at an average of 26 days since 2004, up eight percent since 2017!
Some find the wait too long; residents in rural towns such as Arthur have reported feeling as though they are just riding out their illnesses or delaying seeking care until it’s too late. Furthermore, they are frustrated by the high turnover among doctors in clinics, which means their physicians do not understand their history or family dynamics.
Maintaining these practices isn’t only about protecting doctors’ livelihoods; it’s about making sure patients can actually access the care they require. When doctors leave small communities, they take with them invaluable skills and relationships – as well as knowledge that could prove crucial in improving community health.
As more family physicians reach retirement age and fewer opt to practice primary care (according to a study by Milbank Memorial Fund, only one-third of doctors practice primary care currently, and that number continues to decrease), the problem will only get worse by 2034 the United States could be short 48,000 primary care doctors.
As a patient, you must be aware of these trends so you can make informed choices for your health. If securing appointments with primary care physicians proves challenging, consider switching to practices offering hybrid commissions where initial consultations can take place over video call instead of entering an exam room directly.