Strike up a conversation with a high school student, and it likely will not lead to a discussion about Oklahoma's growing shortage of primary care physicians.
Unless you're talking to Skylar Vogle, a junior at Perkins-Tryon High School.
Vogle wants to be a doctor in rural Oklahoma, and she's just the kind of student the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences is seeking.
This past week, the medical school had a booth for the first time at the Oklahoma Future Farmers of American convention in Oklahoma City.
Four things predict where physicians will practice mid-career — where they grow up, where they go to college, whether their medical school has a curriculum with an emphasis on primary care or rural and underserved populations and where they do their residency, said Dr. Kayse Shrum, the OSU Center for Health Sciences provost.
“The FFA is the first piece of that to me, finding students who are interested in medicine, are already from rural Oklahoma and are more likely to return,” Shrum said.
In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine ranked Oklahoma as the most access challenged state in regards to health care. Oklahoma was among seven other states that are expected to have large Medicaid expansions but have weak primary care capacity, according to the report.
One of the reasons Oklahoma has so few primary care physicians might be because of high rates of uninsured residents and poverty, which make it hard to attract and keep doctors in the state, according to the medicine journal report.
At the rate Oklahoma is going, it will hard to even attain an “average” health care ranking, Shrum said.
There's an immediate need to expand medical school class sizes, expand residency programs and retain physicians to supplement the aging physician population, Shrum said.
“We're already at the bottom, and if we don't do something different, and if we don't address it, it will be devastating to the state,” Shrum said.
Vogle, the president of her high school FFA chapter, already has a plan — go to OSU, major in biology and get accepted into OSU's Rural and Underserved Primary Care Early Admissions Program through its College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Students in the program must plan to practice primary care in rural or underserved Oklahoma. Through the program, students can complete pre-doctoral medical training in seven years.
Vogle doesn't want to leave Oklahoma, hoping to someday practice medicine somewhere near her hometown of Glencoe.
“The fact that you can take someone who is in pain and is hurting and is coming to you to help them and know what to do in that situation would be an amazing feeling,” Vogle said.