Objective: Evidence indicates that medical graduates with a rural background are more likely to become rural doctors than those with an urban background (the rural background effect (RBE)). Exactly why this is so has rarely been studied. This study sought to identify the role of social, environmental and economic factors in addition to isolation characterising rural environments that either explain or modify the association between rural background and becoming a rural doctorrural practice intention.
Design and setting: Secondary analysis of linked databases from the Medical Schools Outcomes Database (MSOD), Australian Bureau of Statistics and other government sources.
Participants: Seven thousand four hundred twenty-two commencing medical students who took part in the MSOD survey and for whom external data could be linked.
Results: No social, environmental or economic factor studied or isolation significantly contributed to explaining the RBE, although there is some evidence that areas of more attractive climate strengthen the RBE. However, even when the RBE is at its weakest, it remains a strong, positive predictor of attraction to rural practice.
Conclusion: Why the RBE occurs remains unexplained. Evidence was found of a reduced RBE under certain climatic conditions and personal circumstances, but further work is required to better understand why rural background is so strongly related with rural medical intention and practice.