Partnership helps solve rural health care shortage

By Dr. Kayse Shrum, Provost, OSU Center for Health Sciences and Dean, OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine

With a new school year starting across the state, Oklahoma’s next class of high school seniors are getting ready for their final year and their graduation next spring. For the students, they are finishing one major milestone in life and starting their next. For the parents, they see their children officially becoming adults.

For many of us in the medical field, we see a new solution to a major crisis in health care.

When it comes to health-care outcomes, Oklahoma ranks very low compared to the rest of the country. One reason for the poor ranking is the extremely low number of primary care physicians per capita. We have a shortage of doctors practicing in rural areas. As a result, we are considered the most access-challenged state in the nation when it comes to health care.

We are about to face a ‘perfect storm’ in this crisis because we have more patients potentially needing access to health care. We have an aging population, and at the same time we have an aging physician population, particularly in rural Oklahoma.

As a leader in rural health for the state, OSU is exploring new and innovative ways to recruit the next generation of rural physicians. Instead of trying to convince urban doctors to convert to rural life, we have found new opportunities by looking to residents of those small towns -- people who have grown up in a rural setting and enjoy the quieter lifestyle. They may have also seen the need for health care in their own hometown.

Thanks to a new partnership with the National FFA Organization, the OSU Center for Health Sciences has been visiting high schools to identify and recruit potential medical students. FFA represents 24,000 very sharp young people in rural Oklahoma and may include some future doctors.

It may sound strange, looking to the FFA for potential medical students. Despite the name, FFA is about more than agriculture. It’s about leadership, commitment, integrity and hard work. It's also about preserving and promoting a rural lifestyle.

Similarly, the OSU-CHS mission is about more than medicine. It’s about service to mankind and community. From that perspective, this is a perfect fit with FFA and the values it promotes in students.

Along those same lines, we have formed a partnership with the OSU College of Agriculture and the OSU College of Arts and Sciences. Students who plan to apply for medical school can pursue an undergraduate degree, attend class with their peers and stay close to the rural lifestyle. They can then apply for early admission program with OSU-CHS.

We will continue reaching out to FFA members and others with strong potential throughout rural Oklahoma. Solving Oklahoma’s rural health care crisis isn’t just up to a few of us -- it’s a team effort. We’re proud to team up with the outstanding young people in FFA.