Working in a health professional shortage area as a doctor

June 1, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

Anaesthetist (2)

Most doctors help people in need. But those who work in health professional shortage areas, which are also commonly called underserved areas, really make a big impact. Improved access to primary care is strongly connected to overall better health and wellbeing. Although there is a strong need, many new doctors do not practice in underserved communities.

There could be a variety of reasons why medical professionals don’t work in underserved communities. For example, some communities in need of doctors are in rural areas, which doctors may not be familiar with. Other underserved areas are in low-income neighborhoods, and some medical professionals may feel their practice would not do well financially in underserved communities.

For whatever the reason, millions of Americans live in parts of the United States with little or no healthcare services. But as a doctor, you have the opportunity to make a difference and in the process you may gain more than you think.

What is a Health Professional Shortage Area?

A health professional shortage area is a community or a population in which there are limited medical professionals, such as dentists and doctors, providing services. The federal government considers two different factors when designating a health professional shortage area including the following:

Underserved Areas: An area, which may include a city, town or entire county can be designated underserved. In 2014, The Health Resources and Services Administration defined an underserved area as one that has less than one primary care doctor for every 3500 people.

Underserved Populations: An underserved population is any group of people who face barriers to healthcare, such as language or financial barriers.

Benefits of working in a Health Professional Shortage Area

Depending on your specialty, you may want to consider starting your career in an underserved area. Some of the possible benefits include the following:

Personal fulfilment: Although doctors in any area of the country may find fulfilment in their job, working with people who have limited access to healthcare can make a big impact on their lives.

Possible loan forgiveness: The federal government has implemented loan forgiveness programs for qualified doctors who chose to work in an underserved area. A portion of a doctor’s medical school loans is forgiven in exchange for working a specific number of years. Programs requirements vary.

Flexible work options: In order to attract doctors to health professional shortage areas, many facilities and hospitals allow doctors to work part-time or have flexible schedules.

How to get started

If working in a health professional shortage area sounds like something you would like to consider, you have a few ways of getting started. For those interested in loan forgiveness in exchange for service, contact the National Health Service Corps for information on their program.

In addition, you can locate health professional shortage areas by state through the Health Resources and Services Administration. Once you locate an underserved area, you can find medical facilities in that area and contact them directly to determine if there are any employment opportunities.


Chat with us on Facebook or Twitter, or email

Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.