Primary Care Clinician and Clinic Director Experiences of Professional Bias, Harassment, and Discrimination in an Underserved Agricultural Region of California

Michelle Ko, Armin Dorri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Importance: Many rural and agricultural communities experience hardship from a shortage of clinicians. The aging of the clinician population threatens future supply in these areas. Developing policies to build a sustainable workforce requires the understanding of experiences from those currently in medical practice. Previous research about rural clinicians has primarily sampled non-Latinx white men, and to a lesser extent, non-Latinx white women; to date, no study has examined differences by race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Objective: To describe the professional experiences of a diverse group of primary care clinicians and clinic directors in an underserved rural and agricultural region of California. Design, Setting, and Participants: In this qualitative study, semistructured in-depth qualitative interviews were performed with clinicians and clinic directors from December 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018, with a present or recent medical practice in the central San Joaquin Valley region of California. Participants (N = 26) consisted of physicians, nurse practitioners, and clinic directors practicing in primary care settings. Settings included solo and group private practice, academic training programs, community health centers, and rural health clinics. Main Outcomes and Measures: Personal experiences as primary care clinicians and clinic directors, and perceived associations with gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Results: Of 26 primary care clinicians and clinic directors interviewed, 16 (62%) identified as female, 12 (46%) identified as non-Latinx white, and 3 (12%) identified as a member of a sexual and gender minority group. Participants who self-identified as female, nonwhite, and of certain sexual orientation and gender identity minority groups described burnout from bias, harassment, and hostility in their professional relationships with colleagues and health care staff. These experiences intensified their feelings of community isolation and professional isolation. Harassment and institutional discrimination were factors in the decision of participants to change practices or exit the region entirely. Discriminatory acts against members of sexual and gender minority groups were the most severe, including threats to licensure and denial of hospital admitting privileges. In contrast to the minority group participants, the remaining participants expressed little to no awareness of these negative experiences, or the association between these experiences and retention. Conclusions and Relevance: Professional harassment and discrimination may hamper efforts to improve clinician and clinic director recruitment and retention in underserved rural and agricultural areas and may pose barriers to addressing health disparities within those communities. Additional investigation appears to be needed to assess the extent to which professional harassment and discrimination affect clinicians and clinic directors in similar communities across the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1913535
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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