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Study: Fewer Medical Students Are Coming From Rural Areas, Tied To Rural Workforce Shortages

Allison Quantz | NHPR

The number of medical students coming from rural areas has fallen by almost 30% since 2002, according to a new report. Researchers say the trend is partly to blame for healthcare workforce shortages in rural states like New Hampshire.

The research, which appears in Health Affairs, was led by Dartmouth professor Scott Shipman. It examined medical school enrollment across the country from 2002 to 2017. The study found that even though the total number of med-students went up by around 30%, during the same period the number of med-students from rural areas declined by 28%.

“In the most recent data, under 5% of incoming medical students come from rural backgrounds,” said Shipman, “and that contrasts with around 20% of U.S. that resides in rural communities.”

Shipman says other research shows med-students from rural backgrounds are more likely to end up practicing in rural areas, meaning the decline in rural med-students could exacerbate existing physician shortages in places like New Hampshire.

“If you grow up and have exposure to what life is like in a rural area, it's not a foreign concept when you're considering where you want to land and set up your practice.”

Shipman says one potential solution to the shortage is to factor rural backgrounds into medical school admissions preferences.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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