Wednesday, December 20, 2017

States get creative to attract doctors to rural areas

"People who live in rural areas are more likely to die from heart disease, stroke, cancer, injuries, drug overdoses, car crashes and suicide. Women are more likely to die in childbirth. Children are more likely to die as infants," John Ingold reports for The Denver Post. And though many factors are behind those statistics, a big problem is that there aren't enough doctors and medical providers in rural America. Ingold reports that fewer than 10 percent of the nation's doctors practice in the rural areas where 20 percent of the U.S. population lives.

And they're getting older, too. According to a 2009 report, "27.5 percent of primary care physicians in non-metropolitan areas were age 56 or older, compared with 25.5 percent in urban locations. In remote rural areas, the percentage is 28.9 percent," the Rural Health Information Hub reports.

Dr. Sheleatha Taylor-Bristow
States are getting creative to come up with solutions to the rural doctor shortage. In Colorado, for example, the state runs a program called the Colorado Health Service Corps that helps doctors repay medical school loans if they work in a rural or underserved area, Ingold reports in a story in the "Colorado Divide" series, which examines the differences between rural and urban Colorado.

Hospitals in urban Colorado have struck up partnerships with struggling rural hospitals, beefed up their tele-health programs, and established locum tenens services, which act as medical-temp agencies when rural doctors need a break, Ingold reports. And the University of Colorado School of Medicine has a Rural Track program to prepare select students to work in rural settings.

Oklahoma has two similar programs for recruiting rural doctors through Oklahoma State University, Michaela Wheatley reports for The Oklahoman. Students agree to establish a practice in a medically underserved area of the state for a minimum of two years, after which the physician will become eligibile for student loan repayments for up to four years if they maintain their practice.

One of those physicians is Sheleatha Taylor-Bristow, who told Wheatley that she never imagined herself as a small-town doctor. Though she is from Oklahoma City, she says she loves her new home in Spencer, which has a population of about 4,000 and is one of the few historically black towns in Oklahoma. Running into her patients at the grocery store doesn't bother her because, as she told Wheatley, "I am a physician 24 hours a day . . . It is not something you go home and stop doing. You cannot vacation from it. It is part of who you are as a person."

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