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These areas are desperate for health care workers

Rural settings are experiencing serious shortages—and can offer many career advantages over cities.

These areas are desperate for health care workers

There’s a perception that if you live in a rural area, you’ll have challenges finding work—and if you are lucky enough to find a gig, you’ll have to settle for subpar pay.

In many industries, this all might be the case. But health care is unique.

This industry is going through a major talent shortage in rural areas. In fact, rural areas account for almost two-thirds of all Health Professional Shortage Areas. These are areas that have a shortage of primary, dental or mental health care as defined by the federal government.

Choosing to work in a rural setting is not only something the industry needs more people to do, it’s also a great career move. Here are four reasons to pack up and head for the country.

You’ll pocket more money

Pay isn’t always better in the city, says Allison Seigars, executive director of Rural Health Projects Inc., an Enid, Oklahoma-based non-profit organization which promotes health care education in underserved areas of the state. Instead of making assumptions, research the market in the rural areas that interest you. If the demand is great enough, the pay may keep up with similar jobs in cities.

And even when the pay is the same or lower, you may still enjoy a financial edge. The cost of living in a rural area is usually much lower than in a city.

In addition, Seigars says, there are many state programs that help students pay off their student loans if they agree to work in a rural area for a certain number of years. Employers who hire people in these programs may then offer other benefits to retain the employee once the loan is paid off. The Rural Health Info Hub is a good place to start for information on this.

And rural health care organizations are looking for almost every type of practitioner to meet their staffing needs. Primary care physicians, general practitioners, nurses, specialists and mental health practitioners are in strong demand.

You’ll get a ton of hands-on experience

Working in a rural community means that you get to see and do it all, says Stacy Kusler, workforce specialist at the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“In a rural setting, often times the practices run a lean operation, meaning you might be the only doctor in the area, or one of just a few nurses working in a clinic,” she says.

You’ll closely serve your community

Whether it’s limited options or a lower standard of care, “rural America suffers when there are shortages,” says Seigars. That means fewer health care options for people in those areas—and it can even mean a lower standard of care. So your presence can have a big impact.

Plus, patients in those smaller communities come to you for everything because you’re the only option, which means you’ll get to really know the patients you treat, Kulser says. “You know a lot about each patient—which can help you be a better health care provider for that patient,” she says.

You’ll quickly raise your profile in your industry

Because the community is smaller, rural health care providers truly become big fish in small ponds. In a rural community, you’re likely to have a high profile and be seen as a respected member of the community, Seigars says.

“A lot of providers I know not only work at the clinic or hospital, but they coach a high school sports team, or lead a community organization,” Kusler says. “I had one doctor tell me that he loves living in a rural community because he is often told what his son and daughter are up to at school before they have the chance to tell him themselves.”  

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