Rural physician satisfaction: its sources and relationship to retention

J Rural Health. 1996 Fall;12(5):366-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.1996.tb00804.x.


This study uses survey data to identify areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction for primary care physicians working in rural areas across the country. It also identifies the specific areas of satisfaction associated with longer retention within a given rural practice, as well as the characteristics of individuals, practices, jobs, and communities associated with the areas of satisfaction that predict retention. Study subjects comprised a sample of 1,600 primary care physicians who moved to nonmetropolitan counties nationwide during the years 1987 through 1990, with oversampling of those who moved to federally designated health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Physicians serving in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) were excluded. Sixty-nine percent of the eligible subjects returned completed mail questionnaires in 1991. Analyses for this study were limited to the 620 primary care physicians who worked more than 20 hours per week in towns of fewer than 35,000 population; who were neither in the military nor the NHSC; and who were not in urgent care, emergency room, or full-time teaching positions. Analyses revealed that the areas of rural physicians' greatest satisfaction were their relationships with patients, clinical autonomy, the care they provided to medically needy patients, and life in small communities. Physicians were least satisfied with their access to urban amenities and the amount of time they spent away from their practices. Retention was independently associated only with physicians' satisfaction with their communities and their opportunities to achieve professional goals. Retention was also marginally related to physicians' satisfaction with their earnings. Among the areas of satisfaction not related to retention were satisfaction with autonomy, access to medical information and consultants, and the quality of doctor-patient relationships. In a subsequent series of analyses of the factors that predict the three areas of satisfaction that were associated with retention (satisfaction with the community, professional goal attainment, and earnings), a variety of physician, work, and community factors were identified. These findings reveal that specific features of rural physicians, their work, and their communities predict each of the various aspects of satisfaction and that only certain aspects of satisfaction predict rural physicians' retention. There are no magic bullets to make rural physicians satisfied in all ways. Nevertheless, there are identified approaches to elevate the specific aspects of rural physicians' satisfaction important to their retention. Programs to improve the satisfaction of rural physicians should focus on those areas of satisfaction that predict longer retention and other important outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Professional Autonomy
  • Professional Practice Location
  • Rural Health Services*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Workforce