Rural America's Noxious Normal: An Inside Look at the Rural Healthcare Shortage

I grew up understanding that doctors were professionals that were hard to come by.

Raised in a rural community of around 4,000 people, I knew that I had to climb into a car and prepare for a “quick” three-hour drive to the city if I wanted to receive the “best” treatment available. I also learned to not become too comfortable with my family physician. The chances of them leaving in two years to go and practice somewhere else – usually in a place where traffic wasn’t caused by a lackadaisical cow crossing the road or a bumbling tractor buzzing along at a fraction of the speed limit – were pretty high.

This was my town's “normal.” As my understanding of the impact that living in such a medically underserved area could have on my neighbors and loved ones grew, however, I began to see how problematic that percieved normalcy really was.

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I could share a number of stories of parents from my home town who were forced to life-flight their children. In a truly “normal” setting they would have had a doctor down the street capable of providing the care they needed. Instead, I watched as families desperately grasped onto hope – and sometimes life -- without a doctor capable of saving them in sight in my small community. 

I could share the story of my Grandpa who, having lung cancer, found himself being driven two hours from home every day to receive radiation.

I could share the story of my uncle who was accidentally shot at the age of twelve and had to be thrown in the back of a pickup truck because of the shortage of emergency medical technicians. He was later transported to a hospital two-and-a-half hours away. The medical staff who were along for the ride had to stop twice to revive him on the way.

As the list of these unfortunate events continued to mount, it would seem safe to assume that change must have been on the horizon. This certainly couldn't been accepted as "normal," could it!? 

Sadly, for many people living in rural areas throughout our country, not much has changed.

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To this day when I visit my home town there always seems to be a new face to greet me at our local clinic. There are also periods of time where my community doesn’t even have a primary care physician working there at all. My friends and family are still climbing into their cars for the three-hour drive to the city in search of a physician capable of providing the care that they need.

Lots of people want to be doctors.

Not many people want to be doctors in a small town.

I get it. When you are used to pleasure of having a Costco down the road, or having more than one option for going out to dinner, why would you want to settle in a small town? The truth is many of us that go through medical school are unaware of the desperation that these small towns have for a better health care. Many medical students are unaware of the community-revolutionizing impact that they're capable of having on such places, and just how important that impact is on the lives of the people who call that place home.

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After a lifetime of witnessing the pain and frustration that comes with living in a rural/medically underserved area, I am keenly aware of just how important the mission of PNWU is.

One day I will return as a practicing physician to help fill this gap that exists in health care. I am thrilled that, as a future physician, I will be able to provide committed, passionate, and long-standing care to a medically underserved community in need.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
— Edward Everett Hale
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Taylor Jade Sorenson

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences