Skip to content
The College of St. Scholastica

Imagine you live in a comfortable home in the country. You work from your dining room table, watch deer nibble at the birdfeeder just outside your kitchen window, enjoy the sound of gravel crunching underfoot on your evening walks and maybe even retire early.

Then, out of nowhere, serious illness or injury strikes. What would you do? The answer is easy for most of us: Head to the local hospital or call an ambulance.

But what if your community doesn’t have a hospital? What if the nearest healthcare facility is more than 30 miles away and you don’t have a suitable means of transportation?

This scenario may sound unfathomable for those living in urban or suburban communities—for many of us, access to quality healthcare and emergency assistance doesn’t take much longer than the time it takes to press three tiny buttons on our phones. But this scenario is the true-to-life challenge many rural residents face, according to Dave Swenson, professor of management and director of the online MBA for rural healthcare administration at The College of St. Scholastica (CSS).

The healthcare industry is evolving. Recent initiatives like The Affordable Care Act are wholly representative of this. As the industry continues to evolve, so too should its leaders—but it’s not always that easy.

So how big is the supply/demand gap for healthcare in the heartland?

The facts about rural healthcare in America

Up to 25 percent of U.S. residents reside in rural areas—that’s nearly 51 million people! Yet only about 10 percent of physicians serve these communities. Patients and providers alike face a multitude of obstacles when they reside outside of highly-populated areas. From economic factors and sociocultural differences to resource shortages and educational shortcomings, some of the secluded romanticism of living in rural communities is lost when the conversation shifts to healthcare.

Here are some of the most compelling facts about healthcare in rural America:

  • Rural residents tend to be poorer, with a per capita income that is an average of more than $7,400 lower than that in urban areas; these same residents are far less likely to receive employer-provided health coverage
  • 60 percent of rural accidents result in death or serious injury
  • 20 percent of nonmetropolitan counties lack mental health services
  • Depending on the specific rural community, anywhere from 57 to 90 percent of first responders are volunteers
  • More than 470 rural hospitals have closed in the last 25 years, 56 of which have closed since 2010 with 283 still at risk of locking their doors

You can view a complete list of rural healthcare statistics at the National Rural Health Association’s web page.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services supports these claims, citing that rural populations generally see higher poverty rates, tend to be in poorer health and have drastically higher uninsured rates than urban populations. Couple those facts with fewer healthcare facilities, and the challenges faced by rural communities become even clearer.

Organizations like the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) are working tirelessly to promote better healthcare delivery in rural America, but the lack of qualified professionals to fill the role of provider or administrator is a responsibility that falls on our colleges and universities.

How can a rural healthcare MBA help?

The College of St. Scholastica initiated an MBA in rural healthcare leadership in 2012. The program was created as a response to discussions between CSS’ Swenson and Terry Hill, director of the Duluth-based National Rural Health Resource Center.

Hill is a nationally recognized expert who works with more than 1,500 critical access hospitals located in rural communities. Swenson asserts that new leadership skills are necessary to maintain quality care in the rural healthcare landscape.

“This is an emerging field,” Swenson explains. “After extensive research, it was found that while other MBA programs may have a course or collection of courses on rural healthcare, CSS is the only program in the United States that has a complete focus on rural healthcare leadership.”

This online, accelerated master’s degree will position candidates to enter into administrative and leadership positions in rural healthcare facilities. The healthcare administration field is projected to grow by 23 percent over the next decade—most notably within underserved communities like the rural counties in question.

Students enrolled in the program can expect to take common MBA courses such as marketing, finance, human resources, economics, information technology and other key areas, but will approach these subjects through the lens of rural settings.

“This is an applied program, meaning students will build skills for working differently within healthcare,” Swenson adds.

Do you have a future in rural healthcare?

Many are drawn to the deeply rooted traditions, slower-paced lifestyle and intimate sense of community that exists in rural areas. But restricted access to adequate healthcare can be a detriment to quality of life in these communities.

Rural hospital leaders are rallying for Congress to implement a number of changes within the nonmetropolitan healthcare system, but regardless of the outcomes of those efforts, the need for qualified leaders in rural healthcare will persist. “The work is challenging and stressful, but it is also an opportunity to make real differences in the healthcare field and in the lives of millions of people,” Swenson urges.

If you’re looking to translate your business-savvy nature and profound leadership skills into a healthcare career that can impact a vast number of American families, a rural healthcare MBA could be the right path for you! Visit St. Scholastica’s rural healthcare MBA information page to learn more about the program.