To the Editor:
There is an irrefutable trend toward urban dermatology practice in the United States, leading to growing problems with rural access to care. The provision of rural clinical experiences and telehealth in dermatology residency training might increase the likelihood of trainees establishing a rural practice.
In 2017, the American Academy of Dermatology released an updated statement supporting direct patient access to board-certified dermatologists in an effort to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with skin disease.1 Twenty percent of the US population lives in a rural and medically underserved location, yet these areas remain largely underserved, in part because of an irrefutable trend toward urban dermatology practice.2-4 Successful approaches to improving rural access to dermatology care are poorly defined in the literature.
Several variables have been shown to influence a young physician’s decision to establish a clinical practice in geographically isolated areas, including rural upbringing, longitudinal rural clinical experiences during medical training, and family influences.5 Location of residency training is an additional variable that impacts practice location, though migration following dermatology residency is a complex phenomenon. However, training location does not guarantee retention of dermatology graduates in any particular geographic area.6 Practice incentives and stipends might encourage rural dermatology practice, yet these programs are underfunded. Last, telemedicine in dermatology (including teledermatology and teledermoscopy), though not always an ideal substitute for a live visit, can improve access to care in geographically isolated or underserved areas in general.7-9
Focused recruitment of medical students interested in rural dermatology practice to accredited dermatology residency programs aligned with this goal represents another approach to improve geographic diversity in the field of dermatology. Online access to this information would be useful for both applicants and their mentors.
We assessed viewable online curricula related to rural dermatology and telemedicine experiences at all Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)–accredited residency programs. Telemedicine experiences at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health systems also were assessed.
This study was exempt from review by the institutional review board at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)(IRB #STUDY00004915) because no human subjects were involved. Online curricula of all ACGME-accredited dermatology residency programs in the United States and Puerto Rico were reviewed from November to December 2018. The following information was recorded: specialized “rural-track” training; optional elective time in rural settings; teledermatology training; and teledermoscopy training.