Why become a rural doctor?

Britons living in rural locations in UK face notable health disparity and medical outcome compared to those who live near large population centres. Although the lack of local medical infrastructure contributes heavily to this, the primary reason behind the health disparity is due to the lack of GPs working in remote locations - more than 90% of the approximately 42,250 GPs (March 2017) in the country works in or near large population centres. The problem is further compounded by the lower average household income of people living in rural areas, which creates barriers for them to seek treatments. Increasing the number of GPs working in remote locations would help considerably in addressing the problem.

Foxhill Medical Centre on Halifax Road in Sheffield. Image courtesy of Terry Robinson

Why should doctors consider working in rural areas?

Working in rural Britain in communities with few or no doctors can be a rather daunting prospect. However, many GPs and medical professionals believe that is a worthwhile challenge, both professionally and personally.

Experience GPs claim that practising medicine in rural areas is exciting owing to the wide variety of health issues, ranging from orthopaedic to wound management, which they have to handle on a daily basis. Unlike in cities and towns, GPs don’t usually spend most of their time treating patients suffering just from cold or fevers.

Further, since they usually work alone or in very small groups, they are expected to personally handle most of the procedural tasks during treatment. The variety will keep doctors on their toes and sharpen their skills across a wide range of discipline. There won’t face the tedium and burnout that most city doctors experience after treating dozens of flu patients daily for years and years.

Is working in rural areas right for you?

No two doctors are alike; personality, upbringing and a thousand other factors play a part in where they might ultimately end up at. If you are considering working as a country doctor in remote areas, here are three starter questions that will give you a lot to think about.

For those considering a rural medicine concentration either during medical school or in residency programs, here are five questions to ask to decide whether it is the right choice for you.

Do you believe in public service?

To some, public service is a calling – an altruistic way to give back to society. The low pay and long hours is a badge of pride. For others, public service is a necessary evil, or an extension of the inefficient government. If your answer is the latter, then perhaps public service is not for you, especially since working in rural areas is more demanding, both physically and emotionally.

Are you comfortable living in rural areas?

Many of us take for granted of the amenities of city life. From cinemas to restaurants to concerts and beauty spas, life in the city can fulfil even our most innate desires. Contrast that with living in rural areas. You can forget about Chinese or Indian food, shops will close before you finish at the clinic, and TV will be your best friend. Even internet connection isn’t very reliable in certain areas. If you’re comfortable with this more rustic lifestyle, and is excited with the prospect of spending more time with mother nature, perhaps this is something you should explore. Conversely, if the thought of making do with just one pub for the next few years depresses, this might not be a good option for you.

Is job satisfaction more important that money?

There is no way to put it this gently. Working in rural areas mean you will earn a lot less over the duration of your career. On the flip side though, your patients will be more grateful for your presence and sacrifice, and most of them will become lifelong friends or acquaintances. You will become an important part of the community, and will attain a high social ‘ranking’. You will probably be invited to most social and private gatherings.

Before you commit to a decision though, it’s probably best that you get clinical experience first in a rural community to determine whether you enjoy the lifestyle and environment.