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The National Health Service Corps Experience for Rural Physicians in the Late 1980s

Donald E. Pathman, MD, MPH; Thomas R. Konrad, PhD; Thomas C. Ricketts III, PhD, MPH
JAMA. 1994;272(17):1341-1348. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520170051035.
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Objectives.  —To learn from physicians in the National Health Service Corps (referred to as NHSC or the Corps) scholarship program about their experiences in rural health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), to contrast their experiences with those of other physicians working in rural HPSAs, and to learn how NHSC physicians' retention is associated with the quality of their experiences.

Design.  —Cohort study.

Participants.  —Two groups of primary care physicians who moved to rural HPSAs nationwide from 1987 through 1990 were surveyed in 1991: group 1 consisted of all 675 physicians in the NHSC scholarship program, and group 2 consisted of a stratified random sample of 1000 non-Corps physicians. Response rates were 73.7% and 69.1%, respectively. Analyses used comparable subsets of 417 NHSC and 206 non-NHSC respondents.

Results.  —Among NHSC physicians, 51% initially anticipated working in underserved areas longer than 10 years, although only 14% expected to remain more than 5 years in their assigned practices. Three quarters of the Corps group felt there were few acceptable practice sites available to them, one third likely would have preferred urban sites, and two thirds were matched in states where they had not lived or trained earlier. Corps physicians felt their spouses' and children's needs were less well satisfied in their communities than non-Corps physicians. Corps physicians reported lower satisfaction in their work and personal lives and demonstrated poorer retention. Group differences in satisfaction and retention remained after controlling for various features of physicians and sites where they worked. Among NHSC physicians, retention was dramatically lower for those less well matched to their communities and those less satisfied.

Conclusions.  —The needs and preferences of NHSC physicians and families are not well accommodated. Low morale and poor retention are endemic among NHSC physicians. The NHSC is challenged by twin goals of meeting the immediate needs of underserved communities and providing personally and professionally satisfying environments where physicians can pursue long-term careers.(JAMA. 1994;272:1341-1348)


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