General surgeons play a crucial role in rural health care
in the U.S. Rural general surgeons decrease the need for
patients to travel for routine surgery, provide backup to
rural primary care providers in emergency care,
obstetrics, and orthopedics, and contribute substantially
to the financial health of rural hospitals.
Between 2001 and 2019, the per capita supply of general
surgeons in the U.S. decreased by 18.0% overall and by
29.1% in rural areas. Rural general surgeons are older
than their urban counterparts. In 2019, 59.4% of the
general surgeons in small/isolated rural areas were 50
years of age or older, compared to 48.8% in urban areas.
While the proportion of women in the general surgery
workforce rose from 10.6% in 2001 to 26.1% in 2019, this
proportion is smaller in rural areas, only 19.7% in 2019.
Long-term preservation of rural surgical services will
require concerted efforts by medical school educators,
residency directors, and rural advocates to promote and
sustain interest in rural general surgery among medical
students and surgical residents, especially women.