Bulletin of the World Health Organization

The Chilean Rural Practitioner Programme: a multidimensional strategy to attract and retain doctors in rural areas

Sebastian Peña, Jorge Ramirez, Carlos Becerra, Jorge Carabantes & Oscar Arteaga

Developing countries currently face internal and external migration of their health workforce and interventions are needed to attract and retain health professionals in rural areas. Evidence of multidimensional interventions, however, is scarce. This study explores a long-standing strategy to attract and retain doctors to rural areas in Chile: the Rural Practitioner Programme. The main objective is to describe the programme, characterize its multidimensional set of incentives and appraise preliminary programme outcomes.

Retrospective national data were employed to examine recruitment, retention and incentives provided to extend the length of stay and motivate non-clinical work. The programme has successfully recruited a large number of applicants, with acceptance rates close to 100%. Retention rates are nearly 100% (drop-outs are exceptional), but only 58% of participants stay for the maximum period. Areas with greater work difficulty are attracting the best-ranked applicants, but incentives to engage in community projects, management responsibilities, continuous medical education and research have achieved mixed results. Rural doctors are satisfied with their experience and 70% plan to practise as specialists in a referral hospital.

The programme has successfully matched the interests of physicians in specialization with the country’s need for rural doctors. However, a gap might be forming between the demand for certain specialties and what the programme can offer. There is a need to conciliate both parties, which will require a more refined strategy than before. This should be grounded in robust knowledge based on programme outcomes and evidence of the interests and motivations of health professionals.