Oklahoma medical schools battle lack of rural doctors

The Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act provides roughly $3 million to create residency programs at hospitals in rural, underserved areas across the state. The bill passed out of the Oklahoma Senate in the final hours of the 2012 legislative session, which ended May 25.
by Silas Allen Published: June 1, 2012
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Officials at Oklahoma's two medical schools are moving forward with a plan they hope will combat a shortage of doctors in rural Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Hospital Residency Training Program Act provides just over $3 million to create residency programs at hospitals in rural, underserved areas across the state.

The bill passed out of the Oklahoma Senate in the final hours of the 2012 legislative session, which ended May 25.

Under the program, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority would contract with the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa and the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City to establish and run new residency programs in medically underserved areas.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority spokesman Carter Kimble said the authority is still working out how the program will be implemented.

Although those details are still being worked out, Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and the OSU Center for Health Sciences said the university is already in discussions with a few rural hospitals that are interested in participating in the program.

Barnett said he wouldn't name the hospitals that have expressed interest until those discussions are finalized, but he said most of them are located in towns with populations of about 25,000.

The university also has begun to recruit students who are interested in working in rural Oklahoma. Kayse Shrum, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said she's been speaking to high school FFA teachers and CareerTech instructors about guiding interested students toward a career in medicine.

The college also is establishing early-admittance programs with regional universities around the state. Under those programs, students could be granted conditional admission to medical school as college sophomores, provided they maintain certain standards.

Recruiting students who come from rural areas originally is important, she said, since they tend to be more inclined to return to rural Oklahoma to practice once they graduate.

“We can make a significant impact and solve the problem we've had in the past in Oklahoma,” Shrum said.

A serious problem

The rural doctor shortage already appears to be taking its toll. America's Health Rankings for 2011 place Oklahoma at No. 48, two spots lower than the previous year's rankings. Only Mississippi and Louisiana fell behind Oklahoma in the rankings, which are released annually by the United Health Foundation.


by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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