The Role of the Rural Physician

There are a lot of misconceptions concerning the role of medical doctors. I once heard a theory about the importance of doctors – the most important doctor is Dr. Pepper! Of course, the truth is that physicians, particularly those in rural areas, are an indelible part of their community.

The rural physician fulfills a unique and abstruse role; it’s an arrayed conglomeration of disciplines. Not just fulfilling his responsibilities as a healthcare provider, the rural physician must also consider the public welfare, meaning he should be a health educator, a community leader, and a public servant.

In 2006 a study was done to compare academic success to health. Researchers found a correlation – poor education and academic performance tends to yield unhealthy lifestyles. In rural areas, diseases can spread quickly. Whether it’s a cold or an STD, the best method of attacking its spread is prevention. Additionally, illness can go untreated for extended amounts of time simply because of a lack of knowledge.

The physician practicing in a small community must address this issue directly. Though education may not seem like a direct responsibility of a medical doctor, it is his responsibility to prevent the spread of disease; furthermore, the best way to prevent a disease is to educate the population.

A physician can indirectly facilitate health education in his community by promotion; however, he cannot educate a community by himself. Communication with leaders and public educators is necessary. For example, collaboration with local schools would ensure that students have at least a fundamental knowledge of common diseases and methods of prevention.

Annual community events, such as fairs or parades, are ideal opportunities to offer interactive seminars and health workshops. Public vaccinations are convenient and engender positive feedback. Pamphlets are useful. The ultimate goal is to catalyze the spread of health knowledge by teaching disease awareness and prevention.

In order for a physician to thoroughly understand the local health needs, he should be
heavily involved in his community. He should familiarize himself with his community in order to provide true quality care. Additionally, involvement in community activity is essential for a rural physician because it demonstrates character.

Church services, town hall meetings, county committees, local government activities, and seasonal parties are ways to get involved in a community while building up a reputable reputation as an outstanding citizen. This community involvement will prove mutually beneficial, as it will enrich the experience of the healthcare provider.

Trust isn’t something easily obtained. While doctors aren’t politicians, in isolated areas they must earn the respect and trust of the people. The efficient way of getting a community’s trust is via community leadership and involvement. The basic idea is to go to people when they’re well, and they’ll come to you when they’re sick.

The average M.D. works more than 50 hours per week. It’s imperative that rural physicians acknowledge their roles as public servants. They must meet the needs of the public, whatever they may be. Working long hours, holidays, and weekends is not uncommon for such
healthcare professionals.

Often, depending on the location, a physician is the only qualified individual (within a reasonable proximity) to offer treatment; thus, in any emergency he would be called upon. It may be his only day off, but a rural physician must be on-call at all times. An uncontrollable schedule, after 8 or more years of secondary schooling, is definitely burdensome. A physician’s work is mentally exhausting and physically demanding. Such a lifestyle is sacrificial and is the paradigm of unselfish, stubborn motivation.

Concerning doctors, Voltaire wrote, “Men who are occupied inthe restoration of health to other men, by the joint exertion of skill and humanity, are above all the great of the earth. They even partake of divinity, since to preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create.”Communities are built upon the shoulders of leaders, who aren’t afraid of good day’s hard work. One type of adroit leader is the rural physician. His endeavors are indescribably important and equally impressive.

Though a rural physician has a plethora of roles and responsibilities, he has unparalleled opportunities to ameliorate, protect, and serve his community. He deems his responsibilities not as obligations, but as privileges. Ultimately, the rural physician has a rewarding career.