The Road to Rural Primary Care: A Narrative Review of Factors That Help Develop, Recruit, and Retain Rural Primary Care Physicians

Acad Med. 2018 Jan;93(1):130-140. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001839.


Purpose: To examine the literature documenting successes in recruiting and retaining rural primary care physicians.

Method: The authors conducted a narrative review of literature on individual, educational, and professional characteristics and experiences that lead to recruitment and retention of rural primary care physicians. In May 2016, they searched MEDLINE, PubMed, CINAHL, ERIC, Web of Science, Google Scholar, the Grey Literature Report, and reference lists of included studies for literature published in or after 1990 in the United States, Canada, or Australia. The authors identified 83 articles meeting inclusion criteria. They synthesized results and developed a theoretical model that proposes how the findings interact and influence rural recruitment and retention.

Results: The authors' proposed theoretical model suggests factors interact across multiple dimensions to facilitate the development of a rural physician identity. Rural upbringing, personal attributes, positive rural exposure, preparation for rural life and medicine, partner receptivity to rural living, financial incentives, integration into rural communities, and good work-life balance influence recruitment and retention. However, attending medical schools and/or residencies with a rural emphasis and participating in rural training may reflect, rather than produce, intention for rural practice.

Conclusions: Many factors enhance rural physician identity development and influence whether physicians enter, remain in, and thrive in rural practice. To help trainees and young physicians develop the professional identity of a rural physician, multifactorial medical training approaches aimed at encouraging long-term rural practice should focus on rural-specific clinical and nonclinical competencies while providing trainees with positive rural experiences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Personnel Selection / organization & administration*
  • Personnel Turnover
  • Physicians, Primary Care / organization & administration*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*
  • United States