Researchers from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine surveyed 99 family physicians and found that those practicing in rural areas were less likely to report burnout than those in urban areas or medium-sized towns.
The physicians surveyed are all graduates of the Sioux Falls Family Medicine Residency Program in South Dakota. The pilot study was published in South Dakota Medicine. The researchers categorized rural areas as those with a population under 10,000, medium-sized towns as those with a population of 10,000-50,000, and urban areas as those with a population over 50,000. Their survey asked respondents to what degree they felt burned out, with five options ranging from “not at all” to “completely.”
Burnout rates by population area
|Population area||Percentage of family doctors reporting burnout|
The study authors, Amy Hogue, MD, and Mark K. Huntington, MD, aren’t aware of other published research that specifically examines burnout rates among physicians in rural and urban areas. Due to their study’s small sample size and other limitations, more thorough research is needed to make a more definitive conclusion on this subject, they note.
Findings opposite of hypothesis
Initially, Dr. Hogue and Dr. Huntington hypothesized that rural doctors—who potentially have fewer resources, increased isolation, longer work hours and lack of privacy from patients—would be more burned out than those in more populated areas. Factors that may contribute to reduced burnout among rural clinicians include having more autonomy in their jobs, having closer relationships with patients and having a greater variety of duties at work, they noted.
On the other hand, the study doesn’t rule out the possibility that some of the physicians may have relocated away from rural areas after becoming burned out, they added.
Drs. Hogue and Huntington are hopeful that their study will help recruit physicians to practice in rural areas.
“Resident physicians who are considering rural practice—but are worried about burnout—can be assured that rural practice may in fact be protective against burnout,” they wrote.