Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

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OSU-CHS News > 2012

Dec. 13, 2012

Future Doctors of Oklahoma

OSU-CHS's partnership with FFA could be key to addressing the state's rural physician shortage

Skylar Vogle wants to practice medicine in rural Oklahoma.

A high school senior from Glencoe, Vogle is one of the first students to get involved in a new mentoring and recruiting effort from the OSU Center for Health Sciences aimed at students in Future Farmers of America.

"Rural Oklahoma is my home and I don't think I could ever move to a big urban area like Oklahoma City," Vogle said. "If I could stay involved with FFA and remain in a rural area near my family, then that's what I want to do."

After she graduates from high school, Vogle plans to attend OSU, major in biology and get accepted into the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine's Rural and Underserved Primary Care Early Admissions Program. Her ultimate goal is to set up a practice in her hometown.

"Who knows better how to care for kids from rural Oklahoma than kids from rural Oklahoma," said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS provost and the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

For the past year, Shrum and members of the OSU-CHS faculty and staff have met with students in FFA programs across the state. Shrum and several OSU medical students also made a presentation at the state FFA convention in Oklahoma City in May to meet with students. The goal – to get these future rural Oklahoma leaders interested in medical careers.

"FFA is about more than just agriculture," said Shrum. "It's about leadership, commitment, integrity and hard work. FFA works to preserve and promote the rural lifestyle, something that is also attractive to physicians working in rural Oklahoma."

With Oklahoma facing a severe physician shortage, especially in rural areas, the need to get students who want to practice in rural Oklahoma interested in medical school has become dire.

"In Oklahoma, many of our physicians are concentrated around the metropolitan areas of Tulsa and Oklahoma City," said Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and OSU Center for Health Science. "Our goal in recruiting from rural Oklahoma is to attract physicians who want to practice there and enjoy the small town way of life, instead of trying to convince urban doctors to convert to rural life."

Oklahoma is consistently ranked at the bottom or near the bottom in health outcomes. The New England Journal of Medicine ranked Oklahoma as the most access challenged state in nation in regards to health care in 2011.

"When you look at where we rank as a state compared to other state, our health care outcomes are very low," said Shrum. "Part of that is because we have such a large shortage of primary care physicians in rural Oklahoma."

Part of Shrum's solution to the primary care physician shortage lies with the FFA. Oklahoma FFA chapters represent 24,000 sharp young minds. Shrum believes that mentoring these students and showing them the career options available is a first step in addressing the state's health care woes.

"A professor in one of my sciences classes in college first suggested I consider medical school," said Shrum. "Before that, I had never considered being a physician. Many of these high school students, for numerous reasons, have never considered a medical career. I want them to know that it is an available option."

Shrum points to the "Physician Pipeline" which generally determines where a doctor will set up their medical practice. The pipeline consists of four factors – where they grew up, where they went to college, whether their medical school curriculum has an emphasis on rural and underserved populations, and where they completed their residency program. The new recruiting effort with FFA is a key component of funneling students into that pipeline earlier.

"We have to look at doing things differently than what we've done in the past," said Shrum. "Traditionally, medical schools have reached out to college students and encouraged them to apply. We honestly haven't had to do much. Now, with the looming physician shortage, we're reaching out to high school students to get them thinking about medical school at a much earlier age."

OSU is also working to address other areas of the Physician Pipeline. Beginning this fall, the college implemented a Rural Health Track into the curriculum with funding from a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Students in the new track have courses focused on rural medicine and will do clinical rotations at rural hospitals across the state.

"The Rural Medical Track is focused on training a cohort of students interested in establishing a rural practice," said William Pettit, D.O., associate dean of rural medicine. "The first group of students grew up in both rural and urban areas, but all of the students are committed to practicing in rural areas."

In partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, OSU-COM has established the Rural and Underserved Primary Care Early Admissions Program to get undergraduate students into the pipeline soon. The program enables qualified students to count the first year of medical school as the final year of their bachelor's degree. As a result, OSU is helping to solve the physician shortage with highly skilled graduates a little more quickly.

OSU-CHS has worked to establish more residency training programs at rural hospitals across the state. With $3.08 million in funding provided by the Oklahoma Legislature this year to establish these programs, more physicians will have the opportunity to practice in rural areas of the state.

Though the recruiting process is only in the early stages, Shrum is optimistic that these efforts will help Oklahoma's health care needs. "I really believe that FFA students will be the solution for our physician problem in the future," she said.

This story originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of STATE Magazine.

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