Family Physicians Lead in Specialties in Providing Rural Health Care

Robert Graham Center data are basis of AHRQ “Facts and Stats” series

Friday, February 03, 2012


LEAWOOD, Kan. — Family physicians provide more health care to rural areas than other primary care or subspecialty physicians, according to data released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality(

The data, part of the “Facts and Stats” series based on research by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, show that 22.5 percent of family physicians practice in rural areas, compared to 9.7 percent of all physicians who practice in rural areas.

“These data confirm that family physicians continue to be the first contact for rural Americans needing medical care,” said Glen Stream, MD, MBI, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “At the same time, it indicates that we need to do more to recruit students from rural areas into our medical schools. Research has consistently shown that medical school rural programs and medical school admissions policies that recruit rural students produce physicians who are likely to go into family medicine and practice in rural settings.”

The AAFP has urged medical educators to adopt admissions policies that actively recruit students from rural areas. Several schools have responded with comprehensive rural programs( Between 45 and 76 percent of graduates from these programs practice in rural areas; between 59 and 72 percent practice primary care.

Rural family medicine residency training programs are an important contributor to family physicians choosing and being prepared to practice in rural areas, according to Stream.

“Although family physicians and nurse practitioners are making a dent in meeting the demand for care among rural Americans, it’s clear our education policy needs to encourage more people to go into family medicine and rural practice,” he said. “As we work to address the problems of rural access to health care, we need to first look at the medical education system and its role in filling the primary care and rural care pipeline. We need to make a long-term commitment to ensuring that we have enough family physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in rural practice to meet the needs of all Americans, regardless of where they live.”

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.  To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website,