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Oklahoma's rural areas search for doctors to come 'home'

As Oklahoma faces one of the worst physician shortages in the nation, medical professionals in rural areas share why they decided to practice in underserved areas.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: July 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: July 1, 2013

“You could stand in one corner of Oklahoma City, throw a rock and hit no less than four hospitals,” said Brock Slabach, senior vice president for member services at the National Rural Health Association. “And nobody seems to ever question whether there are too many hospitals or too many services in an urban center, but you start talking about rural hospitals or rural clinics, and people start to talk about how there's too many hospitals or too many of this or that.”

Slabach said recent medical school graduates aren't generally trained to operate a business. This means communities either need a hospital, a federally qualified health center or a rural health clinic — some kind of structure — to pull in prospective doctors.

“Physicians go and get exceptional training in how to treat the human body,” Slabach said. “But they don't feel comfortable or capable in being an expert in billing and collections and medical records and space planning.”

In Carter's office, OSU medical student Tiffany Palmer helps with the steady stream of patients.

She started her stint at Carter's office in early June. Right now, she's considering being a pediatrician and looking at programs in larger cities, including Memphis, Tenn., and Oklahoma City.

But rural areas are appealing, one of the reasons being that there are medical school loan repayment plans for medical students who finish school and go to work in a rural setting. Palmer anticipates she will have about $160,000 in student loan debt.

Palmer, who grew up in Houston and Moore, has learned a lot during her time in Poteau. She didn't anticipate so much freedom, but that's how Carter runs his office.

She remembered treating a woman who came in with breathing problems. She and Carter discussed what the woman needed. Palmer asked about a medicine she had learned about in classes, but Carter pointed out the side effects.

They ended up sending the woman to the hospital to help regulate her breathing. Later that evening, they went to check on her.

“And that was my first day,” she said.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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