Recruiting medical students from a rural background, together with offering them opportunities for prolonged immersion in rural clinical training environments, both lead to increased participation in the rural workforce after graduation. We have now assessed the extent to which medical students’ intentions to practice rurally may also be predicted by either medical school selection criteria and/or student socio-demographic profiles.
The study cohort included 538 secondary school-leaver entrants to The University of Western Australia Medical School from 2006 to 2011. On entry they completed a questionnaire indicating intention for either urban or rural practice following graduation. Selection factors (standardised interview score, percentile score from the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) and prior academic performance (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank), together with socio-demographic factors (age, gender, decile for the Index of Relative Socioeconomic Advantage and Disadvantage (IRSAD) and an index of rurality) were examined in relation to intended rural or urban destination of practice.
In multivariate logistic regression, students from a rural background had a nearly 8-fold increase in the odds of intention to practice rurally after graduation compared to those from urban backgrounds (OR 7.84, 95% CI 4.10, 14.99, P < 0.001). Those intending to be generalists rather than specialists had a more than 4-fold increase in the odds of intention to practice rurally (OR 4.36, 95% CI 1.69, 11.22, P < 0.001). After controlling for these 2 factors, those with rural intent had significantly lower academic entry scores (P = 0.002) and marginally lower interview scores (P = 0.045). UMAT percentile scores were no different. Those intending to work in a rural location were also more likely to be female (OR 1.93, 95% CI 1.08, 3.48, P = 0.027), to come from the lower eight IRSAD deciles (OR 2.52, 95% CI 1.47, 4.32, P = 0.001) and to come from Government vs independent schools (OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.15, 3.55, P = 0.015).
Very high academic scores generally required for medical school entry may have the unintended consequence of selecting fewer graduates interested in a rural practice destination. Increased efforts to recruit students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may be beneficial in terms of an ultimate intended rural practice destination.
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