November 16, 2017
One in three Veterans who rely on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for health care call a rural community home. Today marks the seventh annual National Rural Health Day – an opportunity to recognize those Veterans who thrive in rural areas as well as the dedicated health workforce that supports them.
Rural Veterans enjoy less traffic, lower cost of living and greater connection to their communities. However, rural health care provider shortages and geographic barriers continue to pose healthcare access challenges. There are more than 10,000 rural Health Professional Shortage Areas across the country – about twice as many than in non-rural areas – leaving both rural Veterans and providers without crucial primary or specialty health care support.
The Office of Rural Health (ORH) identifies and supports innovative solutions to address these challenges. In fiscal year 2017 alone, seven of ORH’s Enterprise-Wide Initiatives provided training to rural health care teams, serving 51 VA medical sites nationwide. These initiatives combine in-person and virtual training to boost local providers’ skills in relevant specialty fields such as geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry. Through targeted training, trusted local clinicians fill specialty care gaps and better address the unique needs of the Veterans they serve.
The following programs have bolstered workforce development year after year and collectively trained almost 3,000 clinicians and staff in 2017:
The Geriatric Scholars Program addresses geriatrician shortages through targeted education for rural health care providers, clinical pharmacists, social workers and psychologists. This initiative incorporates educational courses, virtual mentoring by specialists and clinical training exercises to increase geriatric care expertise throughout the local care team.
Clinical Skills Training in Women Veterans Health Care addresses the women’s health shortage across rural VA facilities. Rural clinicians who participate receive onsite education from a virtual training team in order to provide fundamental women’s care to Veterans.<
Simulation Learning, Education, and Research Network Rural Coordinators program provides a simulation-based training infrastructure to enable rural clinicians to improve their technical skills without leaving their rural VA facility.
In addition to these training-based solutions, other means to tackle the rural health care provider shortages include:
- Better promoting rural-specific financial assistance or loan forgiveness programs: Many recent medical or nursing school graduates face significant loan burdens. Developing and highlighting rural-specific financial assistance or loan forgiveness programs can help encourage young talent to pursue a career in rural communities.
- Increasing cooperation and coordination between community-based providers and VA medical facilities: Sharing resources, from patient data to high-demand specialist providers, will help satisfy unmet patient needs and expedite the delivery of care.
- Enhance recruitment at the community level: Providers tend to practice in the type of community in which they were born. Improving recruitment at the community level – as early as the high school years – can help both VA and community providers establish a skilled and committed local health care workforce.
This National Rural Health Day, ORH asks you to think about how your work can improve a rural Veteran’s access to health care. To learn more about how to recognize National Rural Health Day, join the conversation online with #PowerOfRural and visit https://www.ruralhealth.va.gov to get information on ORH’s mission and programs.