A call to action: stop forgetting about rural America

Author’s note: A group of DMU students recently participated in a global health service trip, organized by the University’s Global Health Department, in Eastern Kentucky’s Breathitt, Lee and Wolf counties. Below, one of those students, Pruthvi Kilaru, a student in DMU’s osteopathic medicine program, shares his experiences and perspectives from the trip. Watch the DMU blog for more insights from trip participant Naima Yusuf, a second-year student in DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery.

“You never know the extraordinary things life has in store,” is something that was said to me by the spouse of one of our patients. Looking back on this past week, I can’t describe it as anything short of extraordinary, providing a full range of emotions from happy to sad, fear to shame, and anger to peace.  

Kentucky hospitality: DMU students and faculty at the Breathitt County, KY, home of Virginia Meagher and Chet Sygiel, longtime friends of Tom Benzoni, D.O., EM, AOBEM, FACEP, assistant professor of osteopathic clinical medicine

My time in rural Kentucky has made me realize that we have become so focused on the utilitarian ideology of providing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, that we unintentionally leave people behind. The last time we considered rural America was in 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty. Since then, the people of rural Kentucky have worked hard to make the most of whatever resources they have, even when the rest of the country forgot about them.

This week I saw things that should never be seen in this country, especially when we tout having some of the best health care in the world. When young girls don’t have access to menstrual products and children cannot access a dentist to remove a painful tooth, how do we expect them to learn? When parents ignore stroke symptoms for over 12 hours due to lack of child care, how do we expect them to be home tomorrow? What do you say to a seven-year-old asking you to convince their sick parent to take their medication, but their parent has to make the decision of either buying their medication or putting food on the table?

As physicians, our role may be to manage the medical conditions of our patients, but my call to action for those reading this is to think about people we may have left behind and learn more about what you can do to help them. Start a feminine hygiene product drive, volunteer your expertise in a local rural community and support regional food banks and supplemental food assistance programs. Do something! Because I promise you if we do not, it will not get better.

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