Family physicians are a critical part of the healthcare system in rural areas, but little is known about the training they need to more effectively address behavioral health disparities. Practicing family physicians in Montana were surveyed about the behavioral health needs of their patients, the behavioral resources at their disposal, their prioritization of a number of behavioral skills and interventions in the training of family physicians, factors that limit their own use of behavioral skills, and the extent of their behavioral science training. Respondents across the state reported high rates of mental/emotional health issues and high need for health behavior change in their patients. Surprisingly, although rural family physicians reported access to significantly fewer behavioral health resources, they did not rate any of the behavioral skills as higher training priorities than their urban counterparts and they were more likely to identify limitations (lack of patient interest, lack of confidence or competence, and inadequate knowledge or training) on their own use of such skills in practice. Family physicians, both rural and urban, whose residency programs had a higher emphasis on behavioral science felt better prepared to use behavioral skills in practice. Consequently, rural training programs are encouraged to emphasize behavioral science training for their family medicine residents, particularly training that focuses on mental health stigma reduction, emphasizes time savings and practicality, covers more severe psychiatric presentations, promotes cultural sensitivity to rural values of autonomy and self-sufficiency, and teaches skills to advocate for individual and community health with regard to behavioral health disparities.
- behavioral health disparities
- behavioral science
- behavioral skills and interventions
- family medicine
- primary care