Objective: To investigate the personal characteristics and professional experiences of medical providers working with medically underserved urban populations.
Design: Focus groups of primary care providers.
Setting: Public and private clinics in Salt Lake City, Utah, in which the providers had ongoing relationships with medically underserved patients.
Participants: Twenty-four providers (11 men and 13 women), including 12 physicians (three family physicians, seven pediatricians, and two psychiatrists), one dentist, three physician assistants, and eight nurse practitioners participated in three focus groups.
Main outcome measure: Interpretative analysis of verbatim quotations regarding personal beliefs, feelings, and practice experiences.
Results: Participants revealed a strong sense of service to humanity and pride in making a difference. They thrive on the challenge of creatively dealing with their patients' complex human needs with limited health care resources. Factors critical to survival in an urban underserved setting include a hardy personality style, flexible but controllable work schedule, and multidisciplinary practice team. The camaraderie and synergy of teams generate personal support and opportunities for continuing professional development.
Conclusions: Increasing the numbers of health care professionals wanting to work with the medically underserved may be facilitated through refining admissions criteria to schools for health care professionals to include values and personality characteristics, emphasizing within curricula the important skills and practice styles necessary to work with underserved patients, and ensuring that underserved practice environments provide support through multidisciplinary teams and structured work hours. These potentially effective approaches could increase success in recruiting and retaining health care professionals to work with medically underserved patients.