Expanding Rural Healthcare Access

Most of us associate “rural” with agricultural, but that’s not necessarily the case. A Georgetown University study notes rural areas actually may be counties with a city as large as 10,000, or more. However, when it comes to healthcare, there’s no question that rural populations consistently fall behind their urban counterparts. 

The reasons may be many, but often result from the fact there are fewer providers to serve most rural residents. That same study reports fewer than 11 percent of U.S. physicians practice in rural areas, but at least 20 percent of Americans live in those places.

Improving Healthcare Access

The question becomes: what can be done to improve healthcare access in rural America? Programs have been instituted to create and test new care models that can improve access to quality healthcare services there, and certain team-based approaches, such as Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs) have been shown to extend primary care services in rural communities. Programs also are being launched that offer higher pay for rural doctors in order to attract them to less-populated areas.

Rural facilities also might join healthcare networks or affiliate themselves with larger systems as a way to improve healthcare access in their communities. In these cases, facilities can offer services not otherwise available; however, affiliation with a healthcare network may mean the loss of some local control.

Opportunities for Nurse Practitioners

That’s where nurse practitioners are finding opportunities. In some cases, they are the only healthcare practitioner within 15-to-20 miles, giving them a degree of autonomy and letting them work, under the direction of the nearest supervising physician, in expanded critical care, trauma and labor/delivery roles that urban counterparts may not have the ability to perform. 

While becoming a nurse practitioner requires an advanced degree, Fortis Colleges and Institutes can get nursing candidates started on the path to the profession. Several campuses offer Associate Degree in Nursing (RN) programs, and RNs can go on to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through an online program offered through the affiliated Denver College of Nursing. Interested candidates can explore their nursing options on our site.

If providing healthcare to rural populations is in your future, one nurse says you’ll be dealing with “the most appreciative population I have ever worked with. I get lots of hugs!” 

Definitely rewarding from a personal perspective.


Tags: healthcare, nursing, Empower, Industry Insights

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