Background and Objective
The shortage of doctors, especially in rural areas, is a major concern in India, which in turn affects the effective delivery of health care services. To support new policies able to address this issue, a study was conducted to determine the discouraging and encouraging factors affecting medical students' interests towards working in rural areas.
This cross-sectional, descriptive qualitative study has been conducted in three states of North India. It comprised six focus group discussions, each consisting of 10-20 medical students of six government medical colleges. The verbatim and thematic codes have been transcribed by using a 'categorical aggregation approach'. The discussions were thematically analyzed.
Ninety medical students participated in the study. The discouraging factors were grouped under two broad themes namely unchallenging professional environment (poor accommodation facilities and lack of necessary infrastructure; lack of drug and equipment supplies; inadequate human resource support; lesser travel and research opportunities) and gap between financial rewards and social disadvantages (lower salary and incentives, social isolation, political interference, lack of security). Similarly, the encouraging factors were congregated under three main themes namely willingness to give back to disadvantaged communities (desire to serve poor, underprivileged and home community), broader clinical exposure (preferential admission in post-graduation after working more than 2-3 years in rural areas) and higher status and respect (achieving higher social status).
This qualitative study highlights key factors affecting medical students' interest to work in rural areas. A substantial similarity was noted between the factors which emerge from the current study and those documented in other countries. These findings will help policy-makers and medical educators to design and implement a comprehensive human resource strategy that shall target specific factors to encourage medical students to choose job positions in rural areas.