(HealthDay News) — Physicians who are married to a highly-educated spouse are less likely to work in rural underserved areas, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Douglas O. Staiger, PhD, from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and colleagues studied a 1% sample of all employed physicians aged 25 to 70 years every 10 years from 1960 to 2000 and every year from 2005 to 2011. They examined the prevalence of physicians with highly-educated spouses, identifying spouses reporting 6 or more years of college (before 1990) or reporting a master’s degree or higher (1990 and later).

The researchers observed an increase in the proportion of physicians with highly educated spouses, from 8.8% in 1960 to 54.1% in 2010 (P for trend <.001). Between 2005 and 2011, 5.3% of physicians worked in a rural Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). 

Physicians with a highly-educated spouse were significantly less likely than other married physicians to work in a rural HPSA (4.2% vs 7.2%t; adjusted odds ratio [aOR]=0.62). Single physicians were also less likely to work in a rural HPSA (4.1%; aOR=0.69), as were physicians who were young, women, black, or Hispanic.

“Approaches, such as allowing provision of health care without requiring physicians to locate in rural areas (ie, through telemedicine), should be investigated,” the researchers wrote.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the biopharmaceutical and banking industries.


  1. Staiger DO, Marshall SM, Goodman DC, Auerbach DI, Buerhaus PI. Association Between Having a Highly Educated Spouse and Physician Practice in Rural Underserved Areas. JAMA. 2016;315(9):939-941. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.16972.