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Approximately 25% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 10% of physicians practice in rural areas.  This maldistribution of physicians over the last several decades has occurred for many reasons:

  • Medical education in the United States has become specialized, centralized and urban.
  • Many practitioners emerge from medical programs with a staggering amount of debt and go on to practice in urban areas, where they often receive a higher salary.

More doctors is not the answer

Simply increasing medical school slots is not the answer. According to the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, “Sizeable growth of the physician workforce in the last two decades has not resolved the maldistribution of physicians.”  On March 24, 2009 — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman said that a congressional overhaul of the health care system must not only provide for universal coverage but also for more primary care doctors and nurses to ensure that an insurance card actually gives the holder access to treatment.

Physicians need to be rooted in the rural community

In a joint 2008 statement, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Rural Health Association stated that medical education anchored in rural places, nourished and funded through significant federal, state and local community support, and meaningfully connected to both regional academic institutions and local physicians in practice has great potential to address both present and future needs for physicians who provide care to rural populations.

DMU launches program to combat rural physician shortage with incentives

Concerned about the growing physician shortage in rural Iowa, Des Moines University (DMU) has embarked upon a “grow your own” program.  DMU and its Area Health Education Center have created the Rural Iowa Provider Education (RIPE) Program.


The RIPE Program provides specialized education, training and tools to better prepare students for service in rural, underserved areas of Iowa.  Because one of the known barriers for students choosing a rural medical practice is the tuition debt load from medical school, DMU has made an on-going commitment to annually provide the equivalent of six full tuition scholarships to students enrolled in the Rural Medicine Educational Pathway. In return, graduates agree to maintain a fulltime primary care medical practice in an approved Iowa community for a period of four years.

Are plans like DMU’s RIPE the answer to the shortage of physicians in rural areas? Are there other concerns or issues at hand? How would you bring more physicians into rural areas?

You can find more information about the RIPE Program on DMU’s website.


5 Responses to “DMU Proactively Addressing Shortage of Health Care Providers in Rural Iowa”
  1. Thank you for this thought-provoking blog! The physician shortage in rural areas is definitely a big concern. At DMU, we are thrilled to get the AHEC centers up & running and know the program will be a success. To understand more of how they help the state, check out this video from our Northeast Iowa center:

    In addition to AHEC & RIPE, another program DMU offers to encourage more docs to practice in rural Iowa is the Osteopathic Physician Recruitment Program. This is a program for our grads – offering loan repayment in exchange for practicing in a small town:

    We also support and encourage grads who choose work that fills in care shortages caused by various factors. A great example is DMU M.H.A. grad Renea Seagren who is the CEO at a Community Health Center in Storm Lake (

  2. Andy McCall says:

    Now if you can get the rural communities to stop being counter productive. This isn’t just physicians not wanting to be there. This started years ago when small towns stopped trying to grow.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] ABC also did a story but it’s not online.Iowa Hospital Association had a blog on the topic awhile back. If you missed it, check it out! […]

  2. […] read their blog. You can even sort for topics related to Des Moines University! Yesterday’s post addressed the issue of provider shortages in rural Iowa, adding information about DMU’s Area Health Education Centers. Please join the conversation […]

  3. […] ABC also did a story but it’s not online.Iowa Hospital Association had a blog on the topic awhile back. If you missed it, check it out! […]

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