Context: Rural communities, often with complex health care issues, have difficulty creating and sustaining an adequate health professional workforce.
Purpose: To identify factors associated with rural recruitment and retention of graduates from a variety of health professional programs in the southwestern United States.
Methods: A survey collecting longitudinal data was mailed to graduates from 12 health professional programs in New Mexico. First rural and any rural employment since graduation were outcomes for univariate analyses. Multivariate analysis that controlled for extraneous variables explored factors important to those who took a first rural position, stayed rural, or changed practice locations.
Findings: Of 1,396 surveys delivered, response rate was 59%. Size of childhood town, rural practicum completion, discipline, and age at graduation were associated with rural practice choice (P < .05). Those who first practiced in rural versus urban areas were more likely to view the following factors as important to their practice decision: community need, financial aid, community size, return to hometown, and rural training program participation (P < .05). Those remaining rural versus moving away were more likely to consider community size and return to hometown as important (P < .05). Having enough work available, income potential, professional opportunity, and serving community health needs were important to all groups.
Conclusion: Rural background and preference for smaller sized communities are associated with both recruitment and retention. Loan forgiveness and rural training programs appear to support recruitment. Retention efforts must focus on financial incentives, professional opportunity, and desirability of rural locations.