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Boosting primary care physician numbers in rural areas

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Reported by: Brittany Jeffers
Updated: 2/08/2013 10:09 am Published: 2/07/2013 10:45 pm

Health care professionals in Green Country are working to address a nationwide problem: primary physicians shortages in rural and underserved areas.

“We are seeing a decrease nationally in rural health because there has been an urbanization of our population,” said Dr. Bill Pettit, the Associate Dean of the Center for Rural Health for the Oklahoma Center for Health Sciences.

Dr. Pettit says his primary goal is try to help recruit and train a new wave of physicians to work in rural areas. The Center funds programs aimed at providing Oklahoma’s rural practitioners, hospitals, and clinics the support necessary to ensure access to quality healthcare for the state’s rural residents.

“It’s not fair for out tax payers to have to drive to Tulsa or drive to Oklahoma City just to receive good, quality care,” said Dr. Pettit.

Dr. Pettit tells FOX23 there are currently 14 students on the rural medical track this year.

“It’s gaining each year,” says Dr. Pettit, “What we want to create here is a well-rounded physician who understands the rural area and can help them out.”

Jake Whitener is a second year medical student and says that he wants to be part of the solution.

“Small town Oklahoma is a part of who I am and always will be,” said Whitener.

He says that he hopes to one day practice in an underserved area in Northeastern Oklahoma.

“I feel like it is my responsibility to give back and to take my skill set and help build healthier communities,” said Whitener.

Another second year medical student, Mercedez Bernard, is on the OSU rural medical track. She says she wants to work in a northwestern community in Oklahoma.

“I grew up in a small town and the nearest hospital and the nearest physician run clinic was 15 miles away so I saw what an impact that had,” said Bernard.

Dr. Pettit says that the Center for Rural Health has rural residency programs established in Enid, Tahlequah, McAlester, Durant and Talihina. He says that the residency program is an essential part of the puzzle.

“You are more likely to keep them there, retain them there if they finish their training in that area,” said Dr. Pettit.

Dr. Pettit says he hopes that the program will ultimately benefit families.

“We need to re-fire up people to go to rural Oklahoma,” said Dr. Pettit.

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