Rural study examines impact of generational change on rural health care

Dr. Dave Snadden (left) and Mark Kunzli (right0 are the co-authors of a qualitative study examining the impact of generational differences on rural recruitment and retention in Western Canada.

Dr. Dave Snadden and Mark Kunzli recently published their qualitative study examining how the aspirations of a new generation of rural physicians are impacting recruitment and retention in rural Western Canada.

Snadden interviewed 39 rural physicians, two nurses and one practice administrator from June to October 2016 to collect information on how participants viewed research, training, recruitment and retention in the rural setting. Using qualitative methods, Snadden and Kunzli discovered three themes containing intergenerational dynamics running through the collected interview data:

  • scope of practice and the concept of generalism appear to be evolving between generations;
  • communities with a supportive practice culture and a focus on strong connectivity and relationships experienced greater success in recruitment and retention; and,
  • divergent career aspirations generationally, with newer rural physicians working hard, but also working differently from their experienced peers.

The data collected “showed evidence that generational change is affecting the health care system.” Snadden and Kunzli found that incoming rural physicians are primarily motivated by work-life balance and are “seeking practice environments that are collegial and supportive, have well-developed internal and external relationships, and allow flexibility in practice and financial arrangements.” The authors also noted that the current rural physician workforce is aging steadily – 40% were aged 55 years or older in 2017 compared to 23% in 2000. The large number of rural physicians that will be retiring from practice in the near future will necessitate replacement by a new generation of practitioners to successfully sustain rural health care in the long term.  As the study authors note, “the willingness and ability to respond to shifting generational aspirations has a direct impact on the health of rural practices, and our results indicate that communities that embrace this reality will more readily recruit and retain physicians.”

Read the full study now