Purpose: To compare practice choices (primary care or specialty) and practice locations (rural or metropolitan) of medical students at the Duluth and Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul; TC) campuses of the University of Minnesota (UMN). In the early 1970s, Minnesota created two medical education programs at UMN to increase the number of rural and primary care physicians: the first two years of medical school at UMN-Duluth, where the program focuses on recruiting students who will be rural family physicians, and the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) elective, a nine-month, longitudinal immersion experience with a preceptor in a rural community.
Method: In 2008, the authors analyzed outcomes for four student groups: (1) UMN-Duluth and (2) UMN-TC medical students who participated in RPAP and (3) UMN-Duluth and (4) UMN-TC students who did not participate in RPAP. UMN medical students complete their first two years on either campus; they can apply to RPAP for their third year. Non-RPAP students spend most of their third- and fourth-year rotations in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Results: The UMN-Duluth and RPAP students were most likely to select a rural location and primary care practice. UMN-TC, non-RPAP students followed national trends, choosing predominantly metropolitan and specialty practices.
Conclusions: RPAP and UMN-Duluth provide significant, complementary educational programs that lead more graduates to choose rural and primary care practices. Efforts across the nation to address the crisis in rural primary care should build on these successful efforts.