Kayse Shrum, Coweta pediatrician and president of the Oklahoma State University Health Sciences Center, burned up the turnpike to Tulsa the week before last to help man an exhibit booth for the center’s osteopathic medical school at the Cox Convention Center — where thousands of high school students converged for the statewide convention of the Future Farmers of America.
Why? Shrum passionately believes the future of Oklahoma’s health care hinges on more outstanding small-town youths becoming doctors.
According to the latest studies, Oklahoma ranks 49th nationwide in the number of primary care physicians per capita, Shrum said. Just to be average, the state needs 1,361 more physicians, she said. Meanwhile, the shortages are deepest in rural towns.
Through student face-time opportunities like last week, and annual meetings over the past three years with every FFA teacher statewide, Shrum strives to ask as many students as she can if they’ve considered going to medical school. Years ago, simply being asked that question is what prompted her to pursue medicine.
Meanwhile, data indicates physicians, like herself, choose to practice close to home and within 100 miles of where they completed their training, she said. To that end, Shrum, who’s dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, has led a concerted effort to establish medical residency programs across rural Oklahoma.
Programs now are underway in McAlester, Lawton, Enid, Talihina, Tahlequah and Durant, and others are in the works in Ada and Ardmore.
Shrum, 41, took a break from her recruiting to talk with The Oklahoman about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Coweta, about 30 minutes outside Tulsa, which had, and still has, a population of about 10,000. My graduating class was 120. My father worked for Southwestern Bell, starting as a telephone man and retiring in management 30 years later. My mother, who has four sisters who live nearby, was a mom to me and my sister, who’s two years older and also lives close. As a kid, my thing was fast-pitch softball. I pitched for the school team, and for a club team — the Tulsa Eagles — which practiced indoors and played year-round in Indiana, Tennessee and elsewhere. My whole family would come watch me play.
Q: And college?
A: I was recruited to play softball by the University of Nebraska, OU and schools across Colorado, Kansas and Texas, which I visited but were too big for me; I didn’t turn 18 until the end of my first semester of college. I decided on Connors State College in Warner, outside Muskogee, because it was small and close to home, and the coach gave me and three of my high school teammates full-ride scholarships. My husband, Darren, and I already had started dating. I met him through my best friend, who worked for him at a Walmart in Broken Arrow. He had graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, where he played football, and was in Walmart’s management training program.
Q: What led you into medicine?
A: I took a summer physiology course at Connors and my instructor asked me if I was going to medical school, noting that I had the highest grade in the class among premed students and others. He suggested I talk with my hometown doctor, who encouraged me and urged me to visit the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. There, I immediately was fascinated by a neuro-anatomy class in which human brains were being examined and studied. It wasn’t that anyone told me I couldn’t go to med school. But until that point, no one had told me I could. I went into medicine, because I wanted to help people. And I love pediatrics because of its impact on families and the future.
Q: How long has your focus been on medical education versus private practice?
A: I joined the faculty about 12 years ago, and was named chair of the OSU Center for Health Sciences pediatrics department in 2005 and promoted to interim vice president of academic affairs in 2009. In January 2011, I became dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine and provost of the health sciences center, and in October of last year, was named president of the center. In this role, I feel like I can make an even bigger impact (than private practice), by training multiple doctors to go back and serve their communities.
Q: You and your husband had three biological children when you decided to adopt two older boys from Ethiopia. Why?
A: When we lived in Muskogee, Darren and I provided respite for a family friend and foster mother of three, and our kids did really well with it. We wanted to adopt those foster kids, but two went back to live with their biological mom. Meanwhile, we had friends who’d adopted from Ethiopia and, through Facebook connections, learned the importance of adopting older children, because most were passed over for babies, and multiples, because they could lean on one another in their transition to their new home. Darren made the first trip alone to Ethiopia, and was impressed with the kind, gentle nature of the boys at an orphanage in a remote part of the country. He gave a pack of gum to our future son Joseph, who asked, “Is this mine? Can I do what I want with it?” When Darren said he could, Joseph kept one piece and gave the rest to his friends. The process to adopt Joseph and Kilientn, whose mother has HIV, took one and a half years. When they finally arrived home, it was like having a new baby, only they could tell us what they thought of their new, never-before experiences — from drive-thru restaurants, ice and ice cream to elevators and seeing the ocean for the first time on a family trip we took to Destin, Fla.
Q: How do you plan to celebrate Mother’s Day?
A: My husband probably will cook out chicken, steak and hotdogs, and we’ll visit with my mother and my maternal grandmother, and his mom likely will come over from Fort Smith, Ark. Truth be told, Darren is a better cook than I am. But I’ll cook for him on Father’s Day.
•Positions: Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Center, president and provost; and OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, dean
•Birth date: Oct. 27, 1972
•Residence: Coweta; her family lives on 40 acres with seven heifers that her kids show.
•Family: husband, Darren Shrum, married 22 years; children, Colton, 17; Joseph, 14; Kyndall, 14; Kilientn, 13; and Karsyn, 13.
•Education: doctor of osteopathic medicine, and pediatric internship and residency, OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine; undergraduate studies, one year at the University of Arkansas and two years at Connors State College in Warner
•Professional contributions: She chairs the national examining board of the American Osteopathic Board of Pediatrics.
•Last movie seen: “42,” the Jackie Robinson story. “I watched it at home, with my family, and discussed the various ways of discrimination.”
•Pastimes: watching her kids participate in football, soccer and livestock shows; running; and working out
•Guilty pleasure: stiletto heels. “They’re kind of my signature thing and, at 5-foot-8, I don’t mind wearing them with pantsuits and being as tall as most men.” Her favorite pair? Orange suede pumps with black trim and a gold plated toe.