Background: Rural tracks (RTs) exist within medical schools across the United States. These programs often target those students from rural areas and those with primary care career interests, given that these factors are robust predictors of eventual rural practice. However, only 26% to 64% of graduates from RTs enter eventual rural practice.
Methods: We conducted a qualitative, exploratory study of medical students enrolled in one school's RT, examining their interests in rural training, specialization, and eventual rural practice, via open coding of transcripts from focus groups and in-depth individual interviews, leading to identification of emerging themes.
Results: A total of 16 out of 54 eligible first- and second-year preclinical medical students participated in focus group sessions, and a total of seven out of 17 eligible third- and fourth-year medical students participated in individual interviews. Analyses revealed the recognition of a "Rural Identity," typical characteristics, and the importance of "Program Fit" and "Intentions for Practice" that trended toward family medicine specialization and rural practice. However, nuances within the comments reveal incomplete commitment to rural practice. In many cases, student preference for rural practice was driven largely by a disinterest in urban practice.
Conclusions: Students with rural and primary care practice interests are often not perfectly committed to rural practice. However, RTs may provide a haven for such students within medical school.