Barriers to College and Health Care Careers Among US Students From a Rural Community

Bauer et al., 2019 / PRiMER / March 2019

Despite rural origin being a strong predictor of rural practice for health care professionals, rural students face educational barriers and are underrepresented in medical schools. The aim of this study was to identify rural high school students’ perceived barriers to college and health-related careers and compare whether perceptions were similar based on gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and parental education. We performed a cross-sectional survey of all high school students from one rural Michigan community. The survey included 13 multiple-choice and 5 short-answer questions. We compared results using χ2 analysis and logistic regression. Free-text answers were grouped thematically and analyzed for patterns.

Survey response rate was 97.1% (506/521); 45.3% (229/506) of students were contemplating health care careers. Rural females were more likely to plan on college (females 83.9%, males 75.6%, P=0.03) and to contemplate a health care career (females 64.1%, males 25.2%, P<0.01). Students of lower SES and those who would be first-generation college students were less likely to plan on college (SES: low 76.8%, high 84.7%, P=.04; parental college: yes 84.4%, no 72.0%, P<0.01), although they were equally likely as other students to consider a health care career. Gender and parental education were significant independent predictors of plans for college; female gender was the only significant predictor for health care interest. The most frequently reported barrier to post-high school education was financial, and for health care training, it was academic success. Rural students are interested in health-related careers. Addressing perceived academic and financial barriers for students from high-need rural communities may inform targeted interventions to increase the rural health care workforce.