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Executive Q&A: Oklahoma State University's medical school chief is passionate about improving rural health care

Executive Q&A: Kayse Shrum, president of the Oklahoma State University Health Sciences Center, wants more FFA students statewide to exchange their signature blue jackets for white doctors’ coats.
by Paula Burkes Modified: May 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: May 11, 2014

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?

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Kayse Shrum

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.


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