To assess the importance of medical residents to rural hospitals, and to predict the possible effect of reductions in Medicare graduate medical education (GME) payments, data from Medicare hospital cost reports and from a telephone survey of rural hospitals with residency programs are analyzed. In prospective payment system year 11,70 rural hospitals received more than $80 million in Medicare GME payments. The presence of rural training programs enhanced staff physician recruitment and retention and led to increased numbers of physicians settling in communities surrounding the facilities. Many survey respondents felt that elimination of GME funds would result in downsizing or outright elimination of their training programs. The results support the contention that rural training programs are important to hospitals and their surrounding communities and provide an essential component of the physician supply pipeline to rural areas.