In 2011, the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina opened in a one-building campus in the heart of wheat country. The aim: to help produce just a few skilled and dedicated physicians needed to address the growing demand for doctors in rural areas nationwide. Eight years later, the visionary school’s first eight graduates are settling into their chosen practices.
Therein lies the rub. Of the initial graduates, just three chose to go where shortages are most evident. Two went to small cities with populations of fewer than 50,000, while three chose the big cities of Topeka (estimated 2018 population: 125,904) and Wichita (389,255) instead. Yet, many consider the outcome a positive step in the right direction.
“The addition of one physician is huge,” said Dr. William Cathcart-Rake, founding dean of the Salina campus. “One physician choosing to come may be the difference of communities surviving or dissolving.”
As more Baby Boomers reach retirement, industries of all sorts are scrambling to replace valuable workers and retain workable capacity, but nowhere is the growing shortage more critical than healthcare. Statistics show that some two-thirds of the primary care health professional shortage areas designated by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration earlier this year were in rural or partially rural areas and the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that by 2030, nearly a quarter fewer rural physicians will be practicing medicine than today.
That’s why more medical schools are offering or considering offering training focused on the nuances of rural practice. Salina is one of 40 of the nation’s more than 180 medical schools offering a rural track – still a too-small number but a definite start, experts say. And for those opting to practice in these vulnerable areas, there are plenty of unique draws.
“Just being in a smaller community like this feels like to me that I can actually get to know my patients and spend a little extra time with them,” said Dr. Sara Ritterling Patry, one of the school’s first graduates. She lives in lives in Hutchinson – population: 40,623 – a town small enough that she regularly runs into her patients at the local grocery store. In such areas, providing care often can be “womb-to-tomb”, meaning that the same doctor who delivers the town’s babies also serves as the county coroner and public health expert, says Dr. Robert Moser, the head of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina and former head of the state health department. Dr. Moser previously practiced for 22 years in Tribune, Kan. – population: 742.
Dr. Tyson Wisinger, another of the original Salina eight who opted to practice in one of the smallest and neediest areas, is back in his hometown of Phillipsburg – population: 2,486. He loves the fact that his children will attend his old high school and that he’ll take care of their baseball teammates. Plus, they’ll grow up living minutes away from generations of extended family.
“I can’t have imagined a situation that could have been more rewarding,” Wisinger said.
To help curb the problem, both medical schools and the federal government increasingly are offering incentives, such as reduced tuition, to students who commit to practicing in rural areas. For example, the federal government recently allocated $20 million in grants to help create 27 rural residency programs where new doctors go for practical training before being fully licensed. That’s a big jump from the 92 programs now active.
Whether you’re aiming for big-city or small-town practice, St. Augustine, FL-based WOLFPACC can help assure you’re prepared for the rigors of medical school and the highly rewarding challenge of a healthcare profession. Call 904-209-3140 to find out how we can help ready you to ace your COMLEX and USMLE exams.