The Supply and Distribution of the Primary Care Health Workforce in Rural America

Research center:
Lead researcher:
Project funded:
September 2018
Anticipated completion date:
March 2020

Rural Americans often depend on primary healthcare providers in ways that urban Americans do not. The family physicians, general internists, general pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants that make up the rural primary care workforce provide a wider range of direct patient care services than their urban counterparts and are crucially important in connecting patients with specialty care when it is required. A continuing challenge in rural health, especially in an era of substantial healthcare system change, is assuring that the supply of rural primary healthcare providers is sufficient to meet need. It is also important to understand that the distribution of those professionals is certainly not uniform. Even if overall supply is adequate, uneven distribution of the primary care workforce may continue to create disparities in access to healthcare.

This study will describe the supply and distribution of primary care providers in the rural U.S. at national, regional, and state levels using the most recent data available, including National Plan and Provider Enumeration System data, Urban Influence Codes, and population data. A nuanced and up-to-date description of the variability in supply and geographic distribution of both the physician and non-physician primary care health workforce in rural America is essential for policymakers, medical and nursing educators, and communities working to improve access to care in rural America.