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Rural Healthcare Workforce

Healthcare workforce is essential to providing healthcare access and quality in rural areas. Rural healthcare facilities must not only have an adequately sized health workforce, but those professionals must be able to meet the needs of the community in many ways, such as having proper licensure, education and training, and cultural competency skills.

Having adequate healthcare providers in rural areas requires efforts on the part of numerous entities including local citizens, other healthcare providers, and state and federal government policymakers. These entities have a better understanding of the complexity and nature of rural health workforce issues and concepts. In addition, the use of, and coordination among, the workforce must be optimized to ensure that patients are getting the best care possible. Strategies that can be employed include:

  • Implementing interprofessional care teams to provide efficient and coordinated care for patients and extend the reach of each provider
  • Ensuring that all professionals are fully utilizing their skill set and working at the top of their license
  • Removing barriers to practice, which exist at the state and federal levels, for established professions
  • Changing policy to allow alternative provider types once evidence shows they can provide quality care

As the nation struggles with shortages of healthcare providers, a maldistribution of those workers means that shortages are often more profound in rural areas of the country. This maldistribution of health providers is a persistent problem affecting the United States healthcare system.

This guide looks at the economics, policy, and planning issues and challenges related to rural health workforce, including:

  • Supply and demand
  • Distribution of the workforce
  • Characteristics of the rural health workforce
  • Licensure, certification, and scope of practice issues
  • Programs and policies that can be used to improve the rural health workforce

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Last Reviewed: 9/4/2014

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N2K nursing program graduates as seen in The Rural Monitor
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Funding for this project was supported by Grant Number U56RH05539 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.