Management of Professional Boundaries in Rural Practice.
PURPOSE: Rural physicians wrestle with professional boundary issues routinely in everyday interactions, and their situation differs from the experience of their urban colleagues. Medical students receive limited exposure to professional boundary management in preclinical training. Increasingly, schools are implementing rural longitudinal clinical clerkships which expose students to rural boundary setting. This qualitative study explored the management of professional boundaries integral to rural practice and how this management may differ from their urban colleagues. METHOD: Semistructured interviews were conducted in 2010 with 12 rural physicians across Minnesota exploring their perceptions of professionalism in rural practice. A social constructivist approach to grounded theory was used to analyze the data. RESULTS: Five primary themes regarding rural professionalism emerged from the data: centrality of care, rural influences on choice, individualization of boundary setting, advantages of dual relationships, and disadvantages of them. These themes served to illustrate rural boundary management. CONCLUSIONS: This study's findings indicate that rural physicians are routinely confronted with professional boundary issues in everyday situations, and these circumstances do not always reflect those of their urban colleagues. Given the increase in longitudinal immersion clinical clerkship programs to nurture student interest in future rural practice, acknowledgment and acceptance of the nuances of dual relationships and boundary setting in different clinical learning contexts are vital to help students identify their personal needs for privacy and be better prepared to negotiate the realities of rural practice. These findings may inform future medical education initiatives on professional boundary setting as an aspect of professionalism.