Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and the Legislature, Oklahoma took a significant stride this legislative session in shoring up the foundation of our fragile health system by passing the Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act. The new law helps build the foundation for attracting and keeping new doctors in our state by providing the funding to create new physician residencies in the underserved areas of our state that suffer most from the current and looming doctor shortage.
These residency programs will train doctors where we need them the most: in rural Oklahoma. Statistics show that young doctors tend to stay within 100 miles of the area where they completed their residency program. The doctors get to know the people in the area, their unique medical needs, and realize they can make a difference in their lives.
At Oklahoma State University, 80 percent of the medical students who attend our medical school and then serve their residency here in Oklahoma stay in Oklahoma.
Medical residency programs are the next step for medical school graduates and are typically more focused than medical school. These newly graduated doctors work directly with patients under the supervision of a fully licensed physician.
The Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act will provide OSU and our colleagues at the University of Oklahoma with $3 million a year to create physician residencies in such places as McAlester, Woodward and even smaller communities. The main mission of the OSU Center for Health Sciences and our College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa is to train, place and support primary care doctors to serve in rural Oklahoma and other medically underserved areas of the state.
Oklahoma has a miserable health record. We consistently rate among the highest in the nation in health problems and among the lowest in the nation in our doctors per capita. Oklahoma ranks last in the nation in the ratio of primary care doctors per population. In rural Oklahoma, that shortage is more than twice as critical. We must train more primary care physicians now.
We are reinventing medical school admissions at OSU. A key to getting doctors into rural Oklahoma is to recruit students from rural Oklahoma. To attract the brightest rural students, we have created a medical education pipeline directly from rural high schools to our medical school. These students have deep roots in rural Oklahoma and love to live and serve there.
To reverse the trend of failing health and dwindling doctors, Oklahoma will need to train as many new doctors as we can. That will take time, but the governor and Legislature have begun the process and we at OSU will do our part by educating the doctors to fill these new residencies.
Barnett is president of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa and OSU Center for Health Sciences.