Don’t discount rural medicine! This is my advice to all pre-med students out there. Let me explain why I feel this way. I was raised in a rural town in Georgia. However, I was of the same mindset that many small-town teenagers are. I would frequently think to myself, “as soon as I get the chance to leave, I’m going to a bigger city to make a good living for myself.” However, by the time I was ready to apply for medical school, a lot had changed. I had already worked in a factory for three years, had a wife, a child, and was very involved in the community from past service projects. I had now developed a deep love, respect, and appreciation for the small town atmosphere. Being that I was a non-traditional student, I had previous experience out in the school of hard knocks that really drove in the old cliché that “money isn’t everything.”

I had experienced firsthand how people of rural areas are lacking for access to even basic medical care. It truly is a vastly different world in the rural area when it comes to accessibility. For this reason, I decided on practicing rural medicine. I was familiar with the people, their lifestyles, and the medical issues to which another physician unfamiliar with the area might not be keen. However, money was always an issue for me in college. Right I was beginning to have doubts about financing medical school because of the massive debt, I found out about a rural scholarship program. In short, I signed an agreement with the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce to work a year in a rural area of Georgia for each year they paid $20,000 to my medical school. What a great deal for someone interested in rural medicine anyway! Furthermore, about every state has a similar program. In some states, you don’t even have to be a resident to qualify for their loan repayment programs.

While I understand the concern for some students that locking themselves into a rural contract may be equivalent to them signing away earning potential, I ask them to look at the bigger picture. Let’s take a hypothetical situation where student doctor A and student doctor B are both graduating. Student A signed a rural contract and student B did not. If both students went to the same school and had no outside financial assistance other than loans and the rural scholarship, then student doctor A would have $80,000 less in loans upon graduation. Furthermore, this means Student A has much less interest to pay as well. Student doctor B would have to make a significant amount more to make up for this gap. So again, please do not discount rural medicine! Not only does a great need exist, but also, it may be the best financial decision you could make as a medical student.

This article was published in the September/October 2014 issue of PreMedLife magazine.