Background: Provision of obstetric care in the United States requires the capacity to perform cesarean sections. It is unknown who actually performs these procedures in rural hospitals and whether nonobstetricians feel comfortable performing cesarean sections.
Methods: We conducted a telephone survey of the 41 rural hospitals in Washington State, asking about the obstetric services offered and the composition and obstetrical practices of physician staff. A supplementary questionnaire was sent to the 112 family physicians providing obstetric services in the subset of hospitals with 50 or fewer beds, asking whether they performed cesarean sections. Eighty-six responded, for a response rate of 75%.
Results: Thirty-one (75%) of the rural hospitals provide obstetric services; of the 31 hospitals, 19 (61%) had no obstetricians on staff. In these hospitals the majority of physicians on staff both practice obstetrics and perform cesarean sections. Family physicians performed the majority of cesarean sections in all but the eight largest rural hospitals; even in these large hospitals (mean annual deliveries, 785), family physicians performed 28% of the cesarean sections. Most family physicians who performed cesarean sections felt very comfortable performing these operations. There was a strong association between the number of cesarean sections performed in formal residency training settings and the family physician's comfort level.
Conclusions: Cesarean sections remain an important service in those rural hospitals providing obstetric services. Most Washington State rural hospitals depend on family physicians for this operative intervention. Physicians' comfort in doing cesarean sections appears to be closely related to prior formal training during residency. This relationship suggests that training programs preparing future rural physicians need to ensure adequate training in this area for their residents.