College Efforts Put Physicians in Rural Communities

By Grant Sloan |

Published 07/23 2014 06:08PM

Updated 07/23 2014 07:44PM

BRANSON, Mo. -- State leaders are hoping a new law for doctors will help fill the current void in rural areas.

Currently 37 percent of Missourians live in rural areas, but only 18 percent of Missouri doctors choose to practice there.

While opinions on the new law are vary, University of Missouri has spent the last 20 years working to fix the problem with it's Rural Summer Community Program.

"I knew I would go into rural medicine," says MU Medical Student Kayla Matzek, "I chose [Cox Medical Center] Branson because I'm from around here, so it's just a perfect fit."

Matzek is one of some 300 students who have, or are currently participating, in Mizzou's Rural Doctor Program.

Cox Medical Center Branson Family Doctor Holly Wherry is a former participant of the program.

"When you're on a rural rotation, that's that one-on-one time in the real world," says Dr. Wherry. "With an attending physician teaching one-on-one, that experience in invaluable."

Dr. Wherry says nearly all the counties in Missouri are considered under-served, especially in rural areas.

So far though the program at MU, nearly 50 percent of participants have returned to practice in rural areas, nearly 40 percent above the national average.

"Sometimes you have to be more than just their Primary Care Physician," says Matzek, referring to what's she learned though the program. "You don't always have all the resources that you need to refer patients to the right place."

University of Missouri Associate Dean Kathleen Quinn says with the help of technology, that's also changing.

"They do have access to specialist, if not in that town, they have access to 'Telehealth' and 'Telmedicine' and technology," says Quinn. "I think the rural doctors like seeing their patients, treating their entire family, and giving back to the community that raised them."

Missouri Legislators are also working to push future doctors to rural areas. Now, assistant physicians who have completed their licensing exams can practice in rural areas after spending 30 days under the supervision of a doctor.

"Those years in residency teach you a lot," says Matzek. "You have a lot to learn."

"Those extra three or four years after medical school, when you learning how to be a doctor," says Dr. Wherry. "That can't be understated."

Many lawmakers says this option will allow the assistant physicians to provide immediate care, rather than waiting on residency spots that can quickly fill up.

Opponents are concerned about over-all health care with assistant physicians, and say a better, but more expensive option, would be to fund rural programs, or help provide more residency spots at teaching hospitals.

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