Background: Rural regions of the United States continue to experience a disproportionate shortage of physicians compared to urban regions despite decades of state and federal investments in workforce initiatives. The graduate medical education system effectively controls the size of the physician workforce but lacks effective mechanisms to equitably distribute those physicians.
Objective: We created a measurement tool called a "rural workforce year" to better understand the rural primary care workforce. It quantifies the rural workforce contributions of rurally trained family medicine residency program graduates and compares them to contributions of a geographically matched cohort of non-rurally trained graduates.
Methods: We identified graduates in both cohorts and tracked their practice locations from 2008-2018. We compared the average number of rural workforce years in 3 cross sections: 5, 8, and 10 years in practice after residency graduation.
Results: Rurally trained graduates practicing for contributed a higher number of rural workforce years in total and on average per graduate compared to a matched cohort of non-rural/rural training tack (RTT) graduates in the same practice intervals (P < .001 in all 3 comparison groups). In order to replace the rural workforce years produced by 1 graduate from the rural/RTT cohort, it would take 2.89 graduates from non-rural/RTT programs.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that rural/RTT-trained physicians devote substantially more service to rural communities than a matched cohort of non-rural/RTT graduates and highlight the importance of rural/RTT programs as a major contributor to the rural primary care workforce in the United States.