Purpose: Comprehensive medical school rural programs (RPs) have made demonstrable contributions to the rural physician workforce, but their relative impact is uncertain. This study compares rural primary care practice outcomes for RP graduates within relevant states with those of international medical graduates (IMGs), also seen as ameliorating rural physician shortages.
Method: Using data from the 2010 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile, the authors identified all 1,757 graduates from three RPs (Jefferson Medical College's Physician Shortage Area Program; University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth; University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford's Rural Medical Education Program) practicing in their respective states, and all 6,474 IMGs practicing in the same states and graduating the same years. The relative likelihoods of RP graduates versus IMGs practicing rural family medicine and rural primary care were compared.
Results: RP graduates were 10 times more likely to practice rural family medicine than IMGs (relative risk [RR] = 10.0, confidence interval [CI] 8.7-11.6, P < .001) and almost 4 times as likely to practice any rural primary care specialty (RR 3.8, CI 3.5-4.2, P < .001). Overall, RPs produced more rural family physicians than the IMG cohort (376 versus 254).
Conclusions: Despite their relatively small size, RPs had a significant impact on rural family physician and primary care supply compared with the much larger cohort of IMGs. Wider adoption of the RP model would substantially increase access to care in rural areas compared with increasing reliance on IMGs or unfocused expansion of traditional medical schools.