‘Have a heart’ for rural Texas, practice medicine in small, underserved communities
By Diane Smith
Rural Texas, with its 3 million-plus people and stretches of wide open space, is the setting for a healthcare crisis characterized by hospital closures, OB deserts and a lack of doctors.
It’s a healthcare plight receiving in-depth attention this week (Nov. 18-22) during Rural Health Week at the UNT Health Science Center. The five-day program was organized by the Texas Rural Health Association (TRHA), a student organization that started about 10 years ago and is focused on educating students about issues and opportunities for doctors and healthcare professionals in rural communities.
“This week is a celebration of rural health and de-stigmatizing what it is and also educating people in the hope of increasing rural providers in the future,” said Ana Adams, president of the student organization and second-year student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Various topics are being discussed during Rural Health Week, including an update of rural healthcare in Texas, border health and telemedicine.
On Nov. 21, which is National Rural Health Day, the campus is set to be the site of a public proclamation from the State Office of Rural Health. Organizers said the proclamation event honors the campus’ strong tradition in rural medicine education.
Madeline Carson, secretary for TRHA and second-year student at TCOM, said many times small communities are overshadowed by big cities. She said they want to encourage doctors-in-training to give rural communities a chance.
“We want people to say, ‘Hey, it’s really awesome out here in rural Texas,’” Carson said. “There are some many great opportunities and there is such a need.”
John Henderson, president/CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, spoke to students on Monday about the challenges faced by rural hospitals and communities in which patients lack access to healthcare.
Henderson described how 159 rural hospitals are tasked with serving more than 3 million people living in rural Texas. He said some people have to drive many miles just to see a doctor. Small cities, such as Graham, are closing OB services while other communities are closing entire hospitals, he said.
“The hope is that you bring attention and awareness to the issue, and those that have a heart for taking care of a rural population will be inclined to go to places like Graham or Van Horn, where providers are needed desperately,” Henderson said after his hour-long conversation with UNTHSC students.
But Henderson also described opportunities for doctors willing to work in rural Texas – from healthy paychecks to the possibility of slashing student loan debt while serving a close-knit community.
Henderson said he hopes to attract future doctors from UNTHSC to rural communities.
“If just one had a thought today that caused them to consider rural as a career or practice site, that would be time well spent for me because to meet the need in rural Texas, it just takes good, young, service-oriented physicians, he said.