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The countryside is a peaceful place of open spaces and a land of opportunity.
Rural areas are home to 20% of the U.S. population, but only 9% of doctors and 14% of dentists practice there. In 2016, the federal government set aside $4.2 million in grants to serve rural communities that lack adequate medical professionals. Education loan repayment programs may also be available for doctors practicing in underserved areas, alleviating a burden they face when they open up new practices.
Wayne Oplinger, a transition analyst for dental distributor Benco, counsels dentists about opening new practices. He offers specifics about why life as a country dentist could be a great choice, and what to consider before making the move.
“These practices are more profitable than the majority of urban practices,” Oplinger says. Industry standards recommend that dentists, for instance, set up a practice in an area where there is one dentist for every 1,000 to 1,200 people. “In rural areas, you can see one dentist for every 2,500 people.” These ratios mean you can establish a practice where you have a strong chance of thriving. And your marketing costs are likely to be lower than they would be in an urban center.
Oplinger suggests researching the demographics of where you would like to move, in part because a practice will want to maintain a location for at least 10 years. “The most important thing is that you like where you’re going to live,” he says. Find out as much as you can about a potential area, the cost of living and the population.
For a practitioner with deep connections to a particular city, it may make sense to move halfway to a rural area, Oplinger says, enabling you to serve that population while maintaining contact with friends and family in the city.
“Cloud-based software and all of the associated support software can help you communicate with patients and insurance carriers,” Oplinger says. With technology, you may be able to outsource things such as call center capabilities, bookkeeping and insurance processing.
Only you can know the right place for your practice. A rural location might be it: The need is there. Oplinger says with a laugh, “I’m going to start handing out shirts to dental students, ‘Give Rural a Chance.’”
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