rural female doctor smiling outdoor
Luna Locums - Clinicians Background

Physician Shortages in Rural Areas: A Looming Crisis

Rural America is facing a healthcare crisis: a significant shortage of physicians. 

Burnout, high turnover rates, and the continued difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic all contribute to this scarcity. The demand for innovative and creative solutions grows more urgent as healthcare access decreases and rural hospitals disappear.

old white doctor running inside hospital looking worried

The Severity of Physician Shortages

According to a report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, 65% of rural areas in the United States had a shortage of primary care physicians in 2023. Only 10% of physicians work in rural places, despite the fact that over 15% of Americans—roughly 46 million people—live in these rural communities. Due to this imbalance, rural doctors are under more pressure to manage a greater variety of cases with fewer resources, which adds to their workload and stress.

Impact on Rural Communities

There are far-reaching consequences for the lack of doctors in rural areas. 

Patients in these regions tend to be older, sicker, and less well-off, often dealing with chronic conditions that require consistent medical attention. With fewer doctors available, these patients must travel longer distances for both preventive and emergency care, which can lead to poor health outcomes and higher mortality rates.A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlighted that approximately one-third of clinicians in academic settings plan to leave their current institution within the next two years, primarily due to burnout and a lack of professional fulfillment. This turnover exacerbates the existing shortage, particularly in rural areas where healthcare providers are already scarce.

Challenges in Medical Training and Retention

The mismatch between medical school enrollment and available residency slots further complicates the physician shortage. Although medical school enrollment has been increasing, the number of residency positions has not kept pace.

Due to this deficiency, a large number of qualified medical graduates are unable to finish their necessary training to become licensed physicians. In rural locations, where there is a greater need for medical experts, this issue has become particularly severe.

Government Efforts and Spending

The federal government is taking significant steps to address the healthcare crisis in rural America. These initiatives seek to keep rural hospitals operating, increase access to affordable health coverage and care, strengthen the rural health workforce, and support essential services like telehealth and behavioral health. Notable efforts include:

  • Increasing health coverage for rural Americans through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, reducing the uninsured rate in rural areas.
  • Providing grants and funding to rural hospitals to prevent closures and support the conversion to Rural Emergency Hospitals, ensuring that critical services remain available.
  • Enhancing residency training opportunities in rural hospitals to increase the number of healthcare professionals serving these communities.
  • Investing in the nursing workforce and recognizing the role of community health workers to address disparities in healthcare access.

Barriers to Healthcare Access in Rural Areas

Several factors contribute to the healthcare access issues in rural communities:

  • Distance and Transportation: Patients often have to travel long distances to reach healthcare facilities, which can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Workforce Shortages: There is a lack of primary care providers and specialists in rural areas.
  • Health Insurance Coverage: Many rural residents are uninsured or underinsured.
  • Broadband Access: Limited internet access hampers telemedicine and other healthcare innovations.
  • Poor Health Literacy: Lower levels of health literacy can impede patients’ understanding of medical instructions and health management.
  • Social Stigma and Privacy Issues: Concerns about privacy and stigma can prevent individuals from seeking necessary care.

Importance of Primary Care Access

Primary care is essential for the health and well-being of rural residents. In addition to treating both acute and chronic ailments, primary care professionals also provide a wide range of other services. Having access to primary care can improve overall health outcomes by lowering the need for emergency room visits.

Potential Solutions

Addressing the physician shortage in rural areas requires a multifaceted approach:

  • Increasing Residency Slots: Expanding the number of residency positions available to medical graduates can help ensure that more physicians enter the workforce.
  • Incentivizing Rural Practice: Offering financial incentives, loan repayment programs, and other benefits can encourage physicians to work in underserved areas.
  • Expanding the Healthcare Workforce: Utilizing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and international medical graduates can help fill the gaps in rural healthcare.
  • Reducing Burnout: Implementing strategies to reduce burnout, such as improving work-life balance and providing mental health support, can help retain healthcare professionals in rural areas.

Luna Locums’ Commitment to Rural Healthcare

At Luna Locums, we are dedicated to addressing the physician shortage in rural areas. Our mission is to provide flexible, tech-enabled locum tenens solutions that empower healthcare professionals to serve in communities that need them the most. By connecting physicians with opportunities in rural America, we aim to enhance healthcare access and improve health outcomes for underserved populations.


  1. “Treating Rural America: The Last Doctor in Town,” Stat News. Available at: Stat News
  2. “How Can We Fix Physician Shortages in Rural America?” Lown Institute. Available at: Lown Institute
  3. “Healthcare Access in Rural Communities,” Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: Rural Health Information Hub
  4.  “The Department of Health and Human Services Actions to Support Rural America and Rural Health Care Providers,” HHS. Available at: HHS