Background: While approximately 30% of the Wisconsin population lives in rural areas, only 11% of physicians practice in these areas. More women are entering medicine today and some studies have raised concerns that women are less likely to practice in rural areas. The intent of this study was to identify which factors influenced female physicians to enter rural practice and to look at the issues they are confronting.
Methods: Ten female physicians practicing in rural Wisconsin towns agreed to participate in 30- to 60-minute semi-structured interviews. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed to identify common themes in answers to the questions.
Results: The physicians had been in practice between 2-26 years, with an average of 13 years. Seven of the 10 had rural backgrounds, which influenced their decisions to practice in rural areas. The physicians cited other factors, such as professional satisfaction, the ability to be engaged with and serve one's community, and having a good place to raise one's family, that made practicing and living in a rural community attractive. However, these physicians also found some drawbacks to rural practice, including too few providers, too much call, and finding a balance between professional and family life. Despite this, all plan to stay in their current practices indefinitely and recommend rural practice to female medical students and residents.
Conclusions: These female physicians find the value of being in rural practice overcome the challenges. The participants provided insight into motivating women to enter rural practice, finding a balance between the challenges and benefits of rural medicine, and promoting the future of rural health care.