Introduction: The increasing shortage of physicians, especially general practitioners (GPs), in rural areas is an issue in most western countries. Many redistribution strategies have been utilized in the past to counter this shortage. The physician's perception of rural areas might be an underestimated aspect of a subsequent choice of living and working environment. The aim of this study was to explore determinants influencing this subjective perception of rurality and to develop further strategies to resolve the physician shortage in rural areas. Methods: A qualitative study with semi-structured interviews and focus groups consisting of medical students and postgraduate trainees in Germany was conducted. The interviews and focus groups were recorded, transcribed and evaluated both deductively and inductively by two independent researchers using qualitative content analysis. Results: Participants had an average age of 28 years. Of 16 medical students and 17 postgraduate trainees, there were 24 women and 9 men. The perception of rurality was strongly influenced by a personal connection (eg family background or personal experiences), which resulted in positive and/or negative associations with rural life and was also a decisive factor for the decision to live in rural areas. Without any kind of personal connection, the choice to work in a rural area was unlikely. Depending on life stage (eg having partners and/or children), different factors were relevant, such as cultural offerings, diversity, accessibility and quality of educational structures (kindergarten/school). Prejudices and a negative image of family medicine deterred students from choosing a career as a GP, whereas postgraduate trainees didn't feel adequately prepared to be fully competent to practice as a GP outside a metropolitan area. Conclusions: Strategies must be developed to raise awareness and create a personal connection to rural areas during under- and postgraduate medical training. Attention should be given to highlighting family friendliness (child care, schools), the attractiveness of working conditions and to improving deficiencies in local infrastructure (internet and or traffic connections). Additionally, there is a need to strengthen the national standardized and structured postgraduate training as well as collegial exchange and the possibility to work in a group practice or as an employee in rural areas.
Research Areas and Centers
- Research Area: Center for Population Medicine and Public Health (ZBV)