Compulsory medical service in Ecuador: the physician's perspective

Soc Sci Med. 1998 Dec;47(12):1937-46. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00335-9.


Compulsory medical service programs for physicians and other health care professionals have been installed in developing countries around the world. The underlying assumption for the creation of these programs is that the increased presence of physicians will improve the health status of rural populations which exhibit higher rates of morbidity and mortality compared to urban populations. This assumption, however, has been challenged by recent evaluative studies of compulsory service programs in Latin America. This paper reports on the physician's perspective of Ecuador's compulsory service program, known as medicatura rural. Based on responses to a self-administered questionnaire completed by 127 physicians who had fulfilled or were currently fulfilling their medicatura rural requirement, in-depth interviews with physicians and other officials, and visits to several rural placement sites, the paper examines some of the fundamental programmatic and logistical problems that have impeded the successful implementation of the program since its inception in 1970. While the majority of the physicians reported that the medicatura rural experience was both professionally and personally rewarding, many view the program as conceptually flawed with respect to its goal of improving the health status of rural communities. The physicians' suggestions for improving the medicatura rural, which elucidate some of the program's basic conceptual flaws and reflect the criticisms of compulsory medical programs in other Latin American countries, are discussed. Finally, Ugalde's (1988) recommendation for replacing compulsory medical service programs with a "rural health corps" is considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Culture
  • Ecuador
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*