Background: An unequal distribution of health personnel, leading to unfavourable differences in health status between urban and rural populations, is a serious cause for concern globally. Part of the solution to this problem lies in attracting medical doctors to rural, remote communities, which presents a real challenge. The present study therefore explored the factors that influence medical doctors' decision to practise in rural Ghana.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional descriptive study based on questionnaires. Participants were doctors working in health facilities in the districts and rural areas of the Northern Region, Ghana. The qualitative data analysis consisted of an iterative process of open, axial and selective coding.
Results: We administered the questionnaires to 40 doctors, 27 of whom completed and returned the form, signalling a response rate of 67.5%. The majority of the doctors were male (88.9%) and had been trained at the University for Development Studies, School of Medicine and Health Sciences (UDS-SMHS) (63%). Although they had chosen to work in the remote areas, they identified a number of factors that could prevent future doctors from accepting rural postings, such as: a lack of social amenities, financial and material resources; limited career progression opportunities; and too little emphasis on rural practice in medical school curricula. Moreover, respondents flagged specific stakeholders who, in their opinion, had a major role to play in the attraction of doctors and in convincing them to work in remote areas.
Conclusions: The medical doctors we surveyed had gravitated to the rural areas themselves for the opportunity to acquire clinical skills and gain experience and professional independence. Nevertheless, they felt that in order to attract such cadre of health professionals to rural areas and retain them there, specific challenges needed addressing. For instance, they called for an enforceable, national policy on rural postings, demanding strong political commitment and leadership. Another recommendation flowing from the study findings is to extend the introduction of Community-Based Education and Service (COBES) or similar curriculum components to other medical schools in order to prepare students for rural practice, increasing the likelihood of them accepting rural postings.
- Community-based education
- Medical doctors
- Rural community
- Rural practice