Additionally, population density at each program’s primary location was determined using US Census Bureau data and with consideration to communities contained within particular Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs)(eTable). Data were obtained from the VHA system to assess teledermatology services at VHA locations affiliated with residency programs.
Of 154 dermatology residency programs identified in the United States and Puerto Rico, 142 were accredited at the time of data collection. Fifteen (10%) were based in communities of 50,000 individuals or fewer that were not near a large metropolitan area. One program (<1%) offered a specific rural track. Fifty-six programs (39%) cited optional rotations or clinical electives, or both, that could be utilized for a rural experience. Eighteen (12%) offered teledermatology experiences and 1 (<1%) offered teledermoscopy during training. Fifty-three programs (37%) offered a rotation at a VHA hospital that had an active teledermatology service.
Program websites are a free and easily accessible means of acquiring relevant information. The paucity of readily available data on rural dermatology and teledermatology opportunities is unfortunate and a detriment to dermatology residency applicants interested in rural practice, which may result in a missed opportunity to foster a true passion for rural medicine. A brief comment on a website can be impactful, leading to a postgraduate year 4 dermatology elective rotation at a prospective fellowship training site or a rural dermatology experience.
The paucity of dermatologists working directly in rural areas has led to development of teledermatology initiatives to reach deeply into underserved regions. One of the largest providers of teledermatology is the VHA, which standardized its teledermatology efforts in 2012 and provides remarkable educational opportunities for dermatology residents. However, many residency program and VHA websites provide no information about the participation of dermatology residents in the provision of teledermatology services.
A limitation of this study is that it is based on online published curricula. Dermatology residency programs with excellent rural curricula that are not published online might exist.
Residency program directors with an interest in geographic diversity are encouraged to provide rural and teledermatology opportunities and to update these offerings on their websites, which is a simple modifiable strategy that can impact the rural dermatology care gap by recruiting students interested in filling this role. These efforts should be studied to determine whether this strategy impacts resident selection as well as whether focused rural and telemedicine exposure during training increases the likelihood of establishing a rural dermatology practice in the future.