Definition of “Rural” Determines the Placement Outcomes of a Rural Medical Education Program: Analysis of Jichi Medical University Graduates

The Journal of Rural Health (Impact Factor: 1.45). 05/2010; 26(3):234 - 239. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.2010.00286.x


Purpose: To show the impact of changing the definition of what is “rural” on the outcomes of a rural medical education program.Methods: A cross-sectional sample of 643 graduates under obligatory rural service and 1,699 graduates after serving their obligation, all from Jichi Medical University (JMU), a binding rural education program in Japan, were used as the data source. Communities were divided into decile groups according to population density, and the cut-off for “rural/nonrural” was altered in order to study its impact on the data.Findings: The rural practice rate of obliged graduates had its peak in the decile groups with the lowest population densities, while the peak rates of postobligation graduates and non-JMU physicians were at the decile groups with the highest population densities. Rural practice rates of all of the 3 groups of physicians increased with the increase in inclusiveness of rural definition. The ratio of rural practice rate of obliged graduates to that of non-JMU physicians (“relative effectiveness”) increased remarkably with the increase in exclusiveness of rural definition. The relative effectiveness of postobligation graduates did not substantially increase after the cut-off exceeded a certain point of exclusiveness.Conclusions: Definition of “rural” largely determined the rural practice rate and relative effectiveness of JMU graduates. The results suggest that results of past outcome studies of rural medical education programs are potentially biased depending on how rural is defined.

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    • "Because no standard definition of the term “rural” exists [30]–[33], we also conducted a series of robustness checks. Previous studies have employed one of the following definitions [30]: 1) metropolitan statistical area [32], [34], which is comparable to metropolitan area codes in Japan: 2) population size [13], [30], [32]: and 3) population density [30], [35]. In this study, we used the following two definitions for robustness checks. "
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    ABSTRACT: Inequity in physician distribution poses a challenge to many health systems. In Japan, a new postgraduate training program for all new medical graduates was introduced in 2004, and researchers have argued that this program has increased inequalities in physician distribution. We examined the trends in the geographic distribution of pediatricians as well as all physicians from 1996 to 2010 to identify the impact of the launch of the new training program. The Gini coefficient was calculated using municipalities as the study unit within each prefecture to assess whether there were significant changes in the intra-prefectural distribution of all physicians and pediatricians before and after the launch of the new training program. The effect of the new program was quantified by estimating the difference in the slope in the time trend of the Gini coefficients before and after 2004 using a linear change-point regression design. We categorized 47 prefectures in Japan into two groups: 1) predominantly urban and 2) others by the definition from OECD to conduct stratified analyses by urban-rural status. The trends in physician distribution worsened after 2004 for all physicians (p value<.0001) and pediatricians (p value = 0.0057). For all physicians, the trends worsened after 2004 both in predominantly urban prefectures (p value = 0.0012) and others (p value<0.0001), whereas, for pediatricians, the distribution worsened in others (p value = 0.0343), but not in predominantly urban prefectures (p value = 0.0584). The intra-prefectural distribution of physicians worsened after the launch of the new training program, which may reflect the impact of the new postgraduate program. In pediatrics, changes in the Gini trend differed significantly before and after the launch of the new training program in others, but not in predominantly urban prefectures. Further observation is needed to explore how this difference in trends affects the health status of the child population.
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    ABSTRACT: Studies have suggested that a rapid increase in physicians does not necessarily change an urban-rural inequity in their distribution. However, it is unknown whether an insufficient supply of physicians worsens an inequity. Spatial competition and attraction-repulsion hypotheses were applied to the geographic distribution of physicians during a time of insufficient physician supply in Japan. Trends of physician distribution as well as urban-rural physician flow were compared using Hiroshima Prefecture which had the lowest increase in physician-to-population ratios between 2002 and 2008 (2.7%), and Nagasaki Prefecture where the increase was one of the highest (12.0%) among the 47 Japanese prefectures. The Gini coefficient of physicians compared with population in Hiroshima increased by 4.1%. Movement toward inequity was greater in Hiroshima compared with Nagasaki where the increase was 2.5%. Approximately 245 physicians or 18.8% moved from rural to urban locations in Hiroshima compared with 143 (14.6%) for Nagasaki (p=0.01). In contrast, 228 (7.6%) urban physicians moved to rural areas in Hiroshima compared with 175 (11.6%) in Nagasaki (p<0.001). In a time of insufficient supply of physicians, a region with a smaller increase in physicians may experience worsening of the urban-rural distribution of physicians compared with a region where there is a more rapid increase in physicians. One strategy for achieving a more equitable distribution of physicians is to increase in the physician supply relative to demand in order to stimulate competition among urban physicians and maintain the power equilibrium between attraction-to and repulsion-from urban areas.
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