Introduction: Many rural communities continue to experience an undersupply of primary care doctor services. While key professional factors relating to difficulties of recruitment and retention of rural primary care doctors are widely identified, less attention has been given to the role of community and place aspects on supply. Place-related attributes contribute to a community's overall amenity or attractiveness, which arguably influence both rural recruitment and retention relocation decisions of doctors. This bi-national study of Australia and the USA, two developed nations with similar geographic and rural access profiles, investigates the extent to which variations in community amenity indicators are associated with spatial variations in the supply of rural primary care doctors.
Methods: Measures from two dimensions of community amenity: geographic location, specifically isolation/proximity; and economics and sociodemographics were included in this study, along with a proxy measure (jurisdiction) of a third dimension, environmental amenity. Data were chiefly collated from the American Community Survey and the Australian Census of Population and Housing, with additional calculated proximity measures. Rural primary care supply was measured using provider-to-population ratios in 1949 US rural counties and in 370 Australian rural local government areas. Additionally, the more sophisticated two-step floating catchment area method was used to measure Australian rural primary care supply in 1116 rural towns, with population sizes ranging from 500 to 50 000. Associations between supply and community amenity indicators were examined using Pearson's correlation coefficients and ordinary least squares multiple linear regression models.
Results: It was found that increased population size, having a hospital in the county, increased house prices and affluence, and a more educated and older population were all significantly associated with increased workforce supply across rural areas of both countries. While remote areas were strongly linked with poorer supply in Australia, geographical remoteness was not significant after accounting for other indicators of amenity such as the positive association between workforce supply and coastal location. Workforce supply in the USA was negatively associated with fringe rural area locations adjacent to larger metropolitan areas and characterised by long work commutes. The US model captured 49% of the variation of workforce supply between rural counties, while the Australian models captured 35-39% of rural supply variation.
Conclusions: These data support the idea that the rural medical workforce is maldistributed with a skew towards locating in more affluent and educated areas, and against locating in smaller, poorer and more isolated rural towns, which struggle to attract an adequate supply of primary care services. This evidence is important in understanding the role of place characteristics and rural population dynamics in the recruitment and retention of rural doctors. Future primary care workforce policies need to place a greater focus on rural communities that, for a variety of reasons, may be less attractive to doctors looking to begin or remain working there.
Keywords: Australia/Pacific; General/Family Practice; Medical; North America; Primary Health Care; Workforce.