Purpose: Although many studies have investigated predictors of physician practice in rural areas, few have accounted for the importance of physicians' backgrounds. This study analyzed the relationship between the backgrounds and future career plans of entering medical students and their rural practice outcomes.
Method: For 1,111 graduates from Jefferson Medical College (JMC, classes of 1978-1982), three factors self-reported at matriculation and previously related to rural practice were obtained from the Jefferson Longitudinal Study of Medical Education: growing up rural, planning rural practice, and planning family medicine. Their 2007 practice location was determined to be in a rural versus nonrural area. Analyses of graduates with various numbers of predictive factors (0-3) and rural practice were performed.
Results: Of the 762 JMC graduates (69%) with complete data, 172 (23%) were practicing in rural areas. Of graduates with all three predictors, 45% (45/99) practiced in rural areas compared with 33% (48/145) of those with two predictors, 21% (42/198) with one predictor, and 12% (37/320) of those with none. Of physicians practicing in rural areas in 2007, only 22% had no predictors.
Conclusions: Three factors known at the time of medical school matriculation have a powerful relationship with rural practice three decades later. Relatively few students without predictors practice in rural areas, which is particularly significant given subsequent factors known to be related to rural practice--for instance, rural curriculum, residency location, or spouse. These results have major implications for the role of the medical school admissions process in producing rural physicians.