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Why a shortage?

- Most rural areas of the United States have fewer physicians per capita than urban or suburban areas, leading some experts to believe that physician shortages are due more to distribution than to actual numbers. According to a 2007 survey by the Minnesota Department of Health, 12.6 percent of Minnesotans lived in rural counties served by only 8.3 percent of the state's physicians who practiced in a rural county. Rural physicians also were more likely to be older.

- A workforce survey of health care professionals in rural Minnesota, conducted in June 2008 by the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care of the Minnesota Department of Health, found a 19 percent vacancy rate for physicians, more than double the rate in 2007. About half of these vacancies were in primary care. The highest vacancy rates by individual specialty were in internal medicine, orthopedic surgery and psychiatry.

- Growing up in a rural area and experiencing rural practice during training are both correlated with a future physician's likelihood of settling in a rural community. From 1971 to 2008, 77 percent of the medical students who participated in the Rural Physician Association Program at the University of Minnesota Medical School in the Twin Cities and Duluth selected primary care as their specialty. More than 350 of them, 38.4 percent, live and practice in rural Minnesota.