Keeping doctors down on the farm

With its Area Health Education Centers program and new rural medicine scholarship, DMU is bringing health care to underserved areas, today and for the future.
The first six recipients of DMU’s Rural Medicine Educational Pathway scholarship are flanked by Dana Shaffer, D.O., senior associate dean of clinical affairs, standing left, and David Plundo, D.O.’85, associate dean of medical education and external affairs, standing right: Seated from left are Brianna Jewell, Stacie Kasper and Katie Schell; standing are Eric Neverman, Eric Miller and Andrew Mueting.

Katie Schell wants to practice in rural Iowa because of its growing need for health care providers. But she sees an additional attraction.

“In a small town, a physician is a pillar of the community,” says the Cascade, Iowa, native. “It’s a chance to serve on civic committees and the local school board and to be the doctor for the high school football team.”

Schell is one of six second-year osteopathic medicine students selected to receive the University’s new Rural Medicine Educational Pathway scholarship. Programs designed to lure health care workers to underserved areas aren’t new. But DMU’s creation of the rural medicine scholarship and its leadership in establishing Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) in Iowa give the state’s efforts a unique dimension.

Until 2007, Iowa was one of the last four states without an Area Health Education Center, or AHEC, a federally funded program created in 1972 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to the underserved. That changed when DMU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Iowa School of Nursing applied for and were awarded funds under the program.

Since then, DMU has established a program office and three of its four planned regional AHECs in Waterloo, Des Moines and Carroll. The centers are developing programs that teach children about health care careers, offer clinical training sites for health profession students and support health care practitioners with continuing education programs.

DMU took the effort a critical step further by creating its Rural Medicine Educational Pathway, which offers full-tuition scholarships to osteopathic medicine students who agree to practice primary care medicine in rural Iowa for at least four years after residency.

“The AHEC program is a long-term workforce development effort. But because DMU’s Rural Pathway program will place medical students and physicians in rural areas, we will see its impact right away,” says Wendy Gray, M.H.A.’97, AHEC program office director.

The six DMU students chosen for the rural medicine scholarship agree that bringing health care to a rural area benefits the overall community as well as its residents.

“One of my brothers once put a screw in his hand. My youngest brother has had three concussions and just broke his arm,” says Rural Pathway scholar Stacie Kasper, who grew up on a farm near Harper, Iowa. “My father had a disk come down on his foot, was trapped under a planter and once fell from a grain bin. A lot of different situations come up in rural areas.”

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