Osteopathic physicians and international medical graduates in the rural primary care physician workforce

Fam Med. 2012 Jun;44(6):396-403.


Background and objectives: Primary care physician (PCP) shortages are a longstanding problem in the rural United States. This study describes the 2005 supply of two important components of the rural PCP workforce: rural osteopathic (DO) and international medical graduate (IMG) PCPs.

Methods: American Medical Association (AMA) and American Osteopathic Association (AOA) 2005 Masterfiles were combined to identify clinically active, non-resident, non-federal physicians aged 70 or younger. Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes were used to categorize practice locations as urban, large rural, small rural, or isolated small rural. National- and state-level analyses were performed. PCPs included family physicians, general internists, and general pediatricians.

Results: DOs comprised 4.9% and IMGs 22.2% of the total clinically active workforce. However, they contributed 10.4% and 19.3%, respectively, to the rural PCP workforce, although their relative representation varied geographically. DO PCPs were more likely than allopathic PCPs to practice in rural places (20.5% versus 14.9%, respectively). IMG PCPs were more likely than other PCPs to practice in rural persistent poverty locations (12.4% versus 9.1%). The proportion of rural PCP workforce represented by DOs increased with increasing rurality and that of IMGs decreased.

Conclusions: DO and IMG PCPs constitute a vital portion of the rural health care workforce. Their ongoing participation is necessary in addressing existing rural PCP shortages and handling the influx of newly insured residents as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) comes into effect. The impact on rural DO and IMG PCP supply of ACA measures intended to increase their numbers remains to be seen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Foreign Medical Graduates*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Osteopathic Medicine / education
  • Osteopathic Medicine / methods*
  • Osteopathic Physicians / education*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / organization & administration
  • Physicians, Primary Care / supply & distribution*
  • Rural Health Services / supply & distribution
  • Rural Population*
  • United States
  • Workforce