Rural Health

The U.S. continues to face a severe Nursing, Physician, Allied Health, and Advanced Provider shortage, and unfortunately, the impact of this is often multiplied in rural communities. Around the country, “healthcare deserts” exist, meaning that people who live in rural locations – a disproportionate number of whom live under the poverty level and in poorer health – often must travel long distances to seek anything from routine care to treatment for chronic conditions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “Approximately one-fifth of the nation’s population lives in a rural area, but only about 16% percent of the nation’s Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers are located there. This is considered to be one reason rural Americans have higher rates of death, disability, and chronic disease than their urban counterparts.” And, of the 7,200 federally designated health professional shortage areas, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that 60% are in rural areas. A few trends are converging to make the challenge of recruiting and retaining Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers for rural healthcare positions even more challenging:

Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers retirements are imminent, with 40% of active Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers across the nation reaching age 65 within the next decade. Compounding this anticipated exit is the reality that the percentage is even higher in rural areas.

The Great Resignation is likely to hit rural areas hard. According to Fletcher Hawkins own research in 2023, 55% of the Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers surveyed said they were considering early retirement and 61% said they were considering leaving for a new healthcare employer. This particular study addressed Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers working in all geographic areas, rural included.

Rural-raised Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers have sharply declined, while overall school enrollment has increased. A 2022 study found that fewer than 9% of incoming Registered Nurses, Allied Health, and Advanced Providers school students came from rural areas. This is significant because we know that these are the ones most likely to practice in rural areas.

Every signal we are receiving from Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, Advanced Providers, and administrators tells us that it is time to shake up the status quo in how rural healthcare organizations approach Registered Nurses, Physicians, Allied Health, and Advanced Provider recruitment. If we are going to realize the goal of creating better access to healthcare and improved health outcomes for rural Americans, then healthcare leaders need to reimagine how they source, recruit, and retain their permanent staff and staffing needs.

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