Are you a med traveler looking for your next assignment? Consider venturing off the beaten path into healthcare deserts — also known as care deserts, or medical deserts. These regions are characterized by a lack of accessible and adequate access to healthcare services. While this may seem daunting, taking assignments in these areas can be incredibly rewarding experiences.
According to GoodRx, more than 80% of counties across the U.S. lack adequate healthcare infrastructure. That means that over a third of the U.S. population lives in a county where access to pharmacies, primary care providers medical specialists, hospitals, trauma centers, and low-cost community health centers is less than ideal.
In this article, we'll explore the reasons why you should consider working in medical deserts, the impact you can make on local communities, and the personal and professional growth opportunities that await. So, pack your bags and get ready to make a difference!
What are medical deserts?
Medical deserts are areas that lack of accessible and adequate healthcare services for residents in need of medical care. In addition, people living in these communities often don't have health insurance or primary care providers, making it that much more difficult to access services.
This situation has serious implications for the health and well-being of those living in medical deserts, as they often struggle to receive timely and essential, quality medical care and attention.
Which areas are most likely to be healthcare deserts?
Rural or low-income areas tend to have the most healthcare deserts. Due to their remote locations and lower population densities, these medically underserved areas often struggle to attract a sufficient number of healthcare providers. The shortage of medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and specialists, poses a significant barrier for underserved communities. While some areas may have low cost health centers, they may not have enough resources to provide key health resources, specialized services, or emergency care for locals.
On top of fewer rural doctors and nurses, some rural areas also lack the actual buildings where care takes place, like hospitals, clinics, or diagnostic facilities.
What does this mean for the population living in care deserts?
This scarcity forces individuals living in rural communities to travel long distances to receive both preventative care and urgent care, resulting in increased costs and time commitments, as well as decreasing the likelihood patients will pursue care at all.
Limited access to reliable transportation also makes it difficult to reach healthcare facilities. Together, these factors create challenges for people living in medical deserts in obtaining quality healthcare services, perpetuating health disparities between rural and urban communities which can exacerbate everything from chronic disease to premature deaths.
Whether the inadequate access is caused by living in more remote areas like rural America, places that have suffered hospital closures, cities with inadequate public transportation, underfunded communities, or any combination of the above, it can be increasingly difficult to gain equal access to quality care.
Why you should consider assignments in a healthcare desert
While assignments in healthcare deserts may pose certain challenges, they also offer unique opportunities for professional and personal growth — making them a great option for travelers.
Saying "yes" to an assignment in a medical desert can benefit you in these ways:
Potential to end up with more money overall
Although rural pay rates may not be exceptionally high, there are appealing financial incentives to consider when taking assignments in medical deserts.
As a healthcare worker in demand, you may have more leverage in negotiating your contract terms, and some rural hospital desert assignments even offer additional signing bonuses.
However, the most significant financial advantage lies in the low cost of living. With affordable housing and lower living expenses, you can allocate a substantial portion of household income and your tax-free stipends towards savings. This allows you to make progress towards paying off debts or achieving other significant financial goals, without the burden of high city living costs.
Help communities that need it the most
By filling the gaps in these communities, travelers play a vital role in ensuring that residents have healthcare access in care deserts. Their presence helps alleviate the strain on local healthcare systems and provides essential medical services, including emergency services, to those who would otherwise struggle to receive key services in healthcare deserts.
Working in these communities allows you to make a significant difference by directly impacting the health and well-being of the local population, leading to a fulfilling and meaningful career.
Leads to personal and professional growth
Working in a medical desert, where there is limited access to healthcare resources, can offer unique advantages for healthcare travelers.
For example, you may have the opportunity to gain diverse clinical experiences, as you may take on a wider range of responsibilities and specialties to ensure comprehensive, quality care for patients.
Smaller communities and rural hospitals often provide a more close-knit and supportive environment, allowing travelers to build strong connections with patients and colleagues.
In these settings, healthcare travelers have the opportunity to make an impact by providing essential care and filling gaps in services.
Working in a medical desert can give you experience to strengthen skills, adaptability, and problem-solving abilities, making you a more resilient and versatile healthcare worker.
Where are care deserts?
Healthcare deserts are usually organized by county, since that's how many healthcare resources and services are allocated and distributed.
This approach allows for a more complete evaluation of healthcare availability across a wider geographic area.
By focusing on the county level, policymakers and researchers can identify areas with restricted access to medical facilities, healthcare professionals, and necessary services. Organizing by county also helps us understand the specific difficulties faced by rural areas, where healthcare access and health services is often more limited compared to urban areas or suburban areas.
Healthcare desert locations to consider
Here are some locations to consider working in:
Catron County, New Mexico
Harding County, South Dakota
Cedar County, Nebraska
Benson County, North Dakota
Hamilton County, New York
Currituck County, North Carolina
Holmes County, Mississippi
Alger County, Michigan
Gilliam County, Oregon
North Slope County, Alaska
Duval County, Texas
Pittsylvania County, Pennsylvania
Pickens County, Alabama
Medical deserts disproportionately impact those who already face additional obstacles to accessing healthcare beyond geographic barriers, such as lower income, limited broadband internet access, and lack of health insurance.
By prioritizing healthcare assignments in medical deserts, you can make a massive difference.
Find your next travel assignment
Finding your next travel assignment in a healthcare desert can be made easier with the help of platforms like Marketplace. Marketplace helps you search for travel assignments based on specific criteria such as state, pay, and length of assignment.
Here, healthcare travelers like you can access more job opportunities in areas that need it most.