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Another Rivalry with Texas

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Health.
March 20, 2012

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Inside my trip to Madill.


Yesterday, State Impact detailed the need for doctors in rural Oklahoma. One part of the solution to the dearth of doctors is money from the Physician Manpower Training Commission. Commit to practicing for a couple years outside of the big metro areas, and you’ll get a scholarship. Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough…

Driving through Madill, you can pick up Dallas radio stations. Sure enough, I found ESPN Dallas.

This is the competition. I’m not talking about ESPN, but the second part: Dallas. It’s an hour and a half to Madill, Oklahoma from the metropolis, and there’s a lot of money on that road.

“As you come up the I-35 or the highway 75 corridor, you’ll find that to compete with that, each suburb, like a ripple on the lake. So it’s 50 dollars an hour in downtown Dallas, so it’ll be in McKinney you’ll have to pay 45 dollars an hour, and then it’ll be a little further up the road, let’s say Sherman and Dennison you have to pay 40 dollars an hour.”

Dave Hill is President of the hospital here in Madill, part of the Integris system. He’s talking cash in your hand. But perhaps a larger factor is the indirect money that can wipe your student debt clean. Texas is far ahead of Oklahoma on that count too. Our neighbors to the south forgive $160,000 if you practice medicine in a rural area. For Oklahoma, you’re looking at only 60,000 in scholarships.

“I can’t match a hundred thousand dollar loan forgiveness, I can’t do that, said Hill.

“Especially in a rural hospital of this size, a hundred thousand dollars may be your entire margin for a year.”

Recruiting doctors to practice rural medicine will never be easy. There’s the hours, the isolation that some might feel, and the lifestyle change. And in border towns, when you add in the Texas element, it can be downright impossible. The problem stretches beyond the emergency room and hospital floor. Renee Transue works in Madill’s physical therapy clinic.

“They just tell you…they’re not afraid to tell, ahh well heck I can get this much here so why should I come there?”

Renee even pulled out an offer she got, worth $119,000 a year. Where was it from? Say it with me…Texas. Here, legislators have tried to match Texas step for step. Last year, they created a loan repayment program similar. But it went unfunded. So the Physician Management Training Commission turned to Oklahoma’s tobacco settlement money. This summer, it will be up and running…

“After a doctor’s spent four years in a rural community, generally, there’s about a 90% retention rate. That’s their home, that’s where they’re going to stay,” said Sam Blackstock, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians.

“It kind of acclimates the resident while they’re training to what life is like in those rural communities. And quite frankly, they fall in love with it.”

Under the new program, PMTC hopes to offer 5 more residencies in rural areas. And coincidentally, they’ll pay back the same amount of loans as Texas…160,000. The College of Osteopathic Medicine, part of the OSU system, will be one of the group of schools dividing up the money. Here’s Casey Shrumm, Dean of the College

“If you were looking for receivers you wouldn’t just go out and tell any kid who plays football come on out. You would go after and you would recruit receivers. This is much the same idea. We want people who are from rural Oklahoma, who lived in rural Oklahoma, who are good students, and would be willing to go back and practice medicine in rural Oklahoma.”

The problem isn’t going away. Just about every study shows Oklahoma at, or near the bottom for health in the country. Part is not enough healthy habits, but another part is just a lack of access to care…

“For us today, to be average of what the United States is, the state would need about 1300 more primary care physicians, just to be average, not to be number one.”

Back in Madill, Dave Hill says he wants to provide medical care for the community of a couple thousand. The nearest hospital is about 20 miles away. He says they’ve saved lives. To keep it up, they need help.

“If we’re able to have a much greater loan forgiveness program than what we have, I believe we might be able to retain and keep more physicians in Oklahoma. It would certainly give people like myself more tools.”

The new Oklahoma program starts this July, but the effect could take a while.  After all, between medical school and residency, it takes seven years to become a doctor. The new program funds 10 total residencies a year, up from 5. The state is short 1,300 doctors.


Would you move to rural Texas if it meant another 100-thousand dollars? Comment below and we’ll some on air.

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