The shortage of healthcare workers in rural communities is the greatest rural health issue facing America today. While about 20 percent of the American population – approximately 61 million people – live in rural areas, only about nine percent of all physicians1 and 12 percent of all pharmacists2 practice in rural communities. Rural areas average about 30 dentists per 100,000 residents, while urban areas average approximately twice that number.3 Shortages of nurses (both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses) and allied health professionals also abound.
This shortage is only expected to worsen as the demand for healthcare workers nationwide grows faster than the supply over the next several years. Consider the following:
As those living in rural communities already know, a shortage of healthcare workers has a profound impact in a variety of ways: decreased access, which has a profound impact on quality of care; increased stress in the workplace; increased medical errors; increased workforce turnover/decreased retention rates; and increased healthcare costs. The projected national trends will only exacerbate the impact of rural health workforce shortages that currently exist.
State Offices of Rural Health have a rich history of developing partnerships; creating, delivering and managing programs; and providing resources and technical assistance that help meet the healthcare needs of rural Americans. Therefore, these organizations can play an important role in addressing these challenges. However, new rural healthcare policies and programs and additional funding are crucial if states are expected to address rural health issues and concerns as effectively as possible.
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