Original articles

Educational factors that influence the urban-rural distribution of health professionals in South Africa: A case-control study

S J Reid, I D Couper, J Volmink


Setting. The influence of undergraduate and postgraduate training on health professionals’ career choices in favour of rural and under-served communities has not been clearly demonstrated in resource-constrained settings.
Objectives. This study aimed to evaluate the influence of educational factors on the choice of rural or urban sites of practice of health professionals in South Africa.
Methods. Responses to a questionnaire on undergraduate and postgraduate educational experiences by 174 medical practitioners in rural public practice were compared with those from 142 urban public hospital doctors. Outcomes measured included specific undergraduate and postgraduate educational experiences, and non-educational factors such as family and community influences that were likely to affect the choice of the site of practice.
Results. Compared with urban doctors, rural respondents were significantly less experienced, more likely to be black, and felt significantly more accountable to the community that they served. They were more than twice as likely as the urban group to have been exposed to rural situations during their undergraduate training, and were also five times more likely than urban respondents to state that exposure to rural practice as an undergraduate had influenced their choice of where they practise. Urban respondents were significantly more attracted to working where they do by professional development and postgraduate education opportunities and family factors than the rural group.
Conclusions. Evidence is provided that rural exposure influences the choice of practice site by health professionals in a developing country context, but the precise curricular elements that have the most effect deserve further research.

Authors' affiliations

S J Reid, Primary Health Care Directorate, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town

I D Couper, Division of Rural Health Unit, Department of Family Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand

J Volmink, Deupty Dean: Research, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch

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Education; Career choice; Rural health;

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2011;101(1):29-33.

Article History

Date submitted: 2010-07-08
Date published: 2011-01-06

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