We’ve all seen movies featuring an urbanite who is forced to live and/or work in a rural locale. There’s “Doc Hollywood,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Pet Sematary” to name a few. But there must be a million of them, and each follows a common thread: The city-dweller, initially resistant to the change, comes to love the rural location they ended up in.
In the dental staffing shortage, rural regions tend to be the hardest-hit. Considering Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, these areas are often the hardest to serve as well. That’s a real shame, considering all the advantages and experiences rural dentistry has to offer willing dental professionals — the kind that make them love the offices they work in. Dr. Stone in “Doc Hollywood” may have been a surgeon, but his high-level story applies to all sorts of dentists working in America’s non-metropolitan communities.
Altruistic, experience-hungry dentists needn’t be sentenced to a rural office to serve truly underserved populations, however. In the real world, locum tenens services are a perfect way to reap the benefits of rural dentistry. Here are just a few reasons you may wish to consider taking a rural locum tenens dentist job:
1. Less Risk — More Money
Yes, a disproportionate number of rural residents (16 percent) are on Medicare or Medicaid, and yes, reimbursement rates from these services are typically lower than what private insurance provides. As one above-linked article notes, a crown that’d get $800 from insurance may get a little more than $400 from Medicaid in Colorado. Factors like these make pursuing rural dentistry a tough decision, since even the best-intentioned professionals don’t want to toil for half of what their labor is worth.
Here, the advantages of consistent pay and an agreed-upon rate are obvious. A locum professional is paid the same no matter what coverage patients carry. If turning patients away and getting poor recompense for your services are equally unpleasant thoughts to you, signing with a locum tenens service represents a path to more patients and far less financial risk.
2. Less Commitment
There are undeniable differences between rural and urban/suburban life. If you’re used to the conveniences of city living or you simply haven’t spent much time in a rural region, the idea of working in a sleepier, slower area may concern you, even if you do really like the idea of working in a rural dentistry setting.
As above, a locum tenens assignment allows you to experience the community and help its denizens without planting permanent roots. In turn, this grants you the opportunity to test the local flavor and working life in numerous locales — you can zero in on exactly the kind of place you want to serve without taking on a string of longer-term traditional placements.
3. Stronger Connections
There are numerous accounts from urban dentists sharing their rural dentistry experiences, and most share a trend: They spend a lot of time talking about how nice people are, how appreciative they are to receive service, and how much easier it is to form strong bonds with patients. That’s a major selling point for dentists who specifically seek out rural posts in the name of helping people. If you’re the kind of professional who enjoys lighter workloads and taking time to build relationships — or the kind that enjoys when patients bring home-baked treats to show their appreciation — you’ll love rural dentistry.
4. More Complex Cases
Another rural dentistry trend is a higher number of complex cases. This is likely a result of several factors, including a lack of suitable insurance, less money to spend on dental care, fewer sources of fluoridated water, and the above-mentioned shortage reducing access to critical service. Whatever the cause, a rural position may afford more chances to undertake complex jobs and more time in which to carry them out. Combined with the other factors listed here, this gives dentists a chance to hone their clinical abilities and pick up skills that translate to any job they take in the future, rural or otherwise.
5. The Human Element
Almost every dentist has had that moment where a patient, having received a service that will quite literally improve their quality of life for years to come, expresses their sincere appreciation. More, because dentists in rural areas tend to have less competition, which inherently gives them a prominent place in the community.
With enhanced opportunities to treat complex decay problems, better chances to learn about your patients, and a role of significant importance within the community, there’s no question that rural dentistry helps you see the positive impacts of your work in an up-close-and-personal way. No wonder Doc Hollywood fell in love with rural America.