Context: Small towns across the United States struggle to maintain an adequate primary care workforce.
Purpose: To examine factors contributing to physician satisfaction and retention in largely rural areas in Massachusetts, a state with rural pockets and small towns.
Methods: A survey mailed in 2004-2005 to primary care physicians, practicing in areas designated by the state as rural, queried respondents about personal and practice characteristics as well as workforce concerns. Predictors of satisfaction and likelihood of remaining in current or rural practice somewhere were assessed.
Findings: Of 227 eligible physicians, 160 returned their surveys (response rate, 70.5%). Approximately one third (34.0%) reported they had grown up in communities of 100,000 or larger. Factors associated with higher overall practice satisfaction included not feeling overworked (P = .043) or professionally isolated (P = .004), and being involved in their practice (P = .045) and home communities (P = .036) as well as ease of seeking additional physicians for practice and obtaining CME credits (P = .014 and P = .017, respectively). Female physicians were more likely to report an intention to remain in rural practice somewhere for the next decade (P = .034). In rating their satisfaction with various aspects of the rural practice environment, physicians reported greatest satisfaction with their practice overall (67%) and their call group size (66%). They were least satisfied with their current (30%) and likely future income (40%). In multivariate analyses, larger practice community size was positively related to the dependent variable of overall satisfaction and negatively related to likelihood of staying in current practice or in rural practice somewhere.
Conclusions: Our findings reaffirm the importance of rural medical education opportunities in physician recruitment, retention, and practice satisfaction. They also indicate that in a small New England state, a major source of physicians for rural and small town communities is physicians who have been raised in urban/suburban communities and who were trained outside of the region but who were prepared to live and to practice in rural and small town communities.