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Can J Rural Med. 2020 Jan-Mar;25(1):20-30. doi: 10.4103/CJRM.CJRM_4_19.

A systematic review of reviews: Recruitment and retention of rural family physicians.

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Centre for Rural Health Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.
Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, Primary Healthcare Research Unit, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada.
College of Family Physicians of Canada, Mississauga, ON, Canada.


in English, French


The recruitment and retention of family physicians in rural and remote communities has been the topic of many reviews; however, a lack of consensus among them with regard to which factors are most influential makes it difficult for setting priorities. We performed a systematic review of reviews which helped to establish an overall conclusion and provided a set of fundamental influential factors, regardless of the consistency or generalisability of the findings across reviews. This review also identified the knowledge gaps and areas of priority for future research.


A literature search was conducted to find the review articles discussing the factors of recruitment or retention of rural family physicians. Results were screened by two independent reviewers. The number of times that each factor was mentioned in the literature was counted and ordered in terms of frequency.


The literature search identified 84 systematic reviews. Fourteen met the inclusion criteria, from which 158 specific factors were identified and summarised into 11 categories: personal, health, family, training, practice, work, professional, pay, community, regional and system/legislation. The three categories referenced most often were training, personal and practice. The specific individual factors mentioned most often in the literature were 'medical school characteristics', 'longitudinal rural training' and 'raised in a small town'.


The three most often cited categories resemble three distinct phases of a family physician's life: pre-medical school, medical school and post-medical school. To increase the number of physicians who choose to work in rural practice, strategies must encompass and promote continuity across all three of these phases. The results of this systematic review will allow for the identification of areas of priority that require further attention to develop appropriate strategies to improve the number of family physicians working in rural and remote locations.


Family physician; recruitment; retention; rural; systematic review of reviews

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