Dr. Beth Loney graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine’s Wichita campus in June and then went into practice in Stockton, a town of about 1,300 people in Rooks County, north of Hays.
When she started medical school, she had no plans to become a rural doctor.
"I knew I wanted to do family medicine, but I wouldn't have said I wanted to do rural. I didn't have family that was rural, I didn't grow up going to a rural area, so I didn't know a lot about rural medicine," Loney said.
That changed thanks to an exposure to rural medicine during her second year of medical school. She participated in a "rural health weekend" at Dr. Jennifer Brull's practice in Plainville. That led to a third-year rotation in Plainville.
"That's what made me decide to do rural by the time I went to residency," Loney said. "Early exposure is so important if you're actually going to get people to consider it as an option."
There are others like Loney.
More graduates from the KU Wichita campus chose to practice in rural areas of the state in 2011 than in any of the previous five years.
The KU Wichita campus was expanded last year to include a full four-year program, and a new four-year program was started at KU Salina with hopes that more students would focus on primary care and work in rural or other underserved areas of the state upon graduation.
If last year’s graduating class is any indication, the strategy already may be paying off.
Dr. Brad Poss, professor of pediatrics and associate dean for graduate medical education at the KU Wichita campus, said interest in working in rural Kansas is closely tied to growing interest in primary care among students.
"And having a connection to Kansas is important,” he said. “That's one of the reasons for the opening of the new four-year campus here. Families get established, they get to know the area and they begin to make a life here. So, they then like to do their residency here as well and they become established in Kansas and subsequently have practices here."
Currently there about 776 residents in KU’s medical school — 499 in Kansas City, 264 in Wichita and 13 in Salina. Last year, 121 graduated from KC, 66 from Wichita and four from Salina. Graduating class sizes vary from year to year because residencies last from three to seven years.
Poss said in recent years, about 50 percent of KU Wichita’s students chose to practice in Kansas following their residencies and about 30 percent chose to leave the state. The remaining 20 percent went on to advanced training in fields such as cardiology or neurosurgery, and about half of those specialists stay in Kansas afterward.
In 2011, 32 residents graduated from KU Wichita and set up practice in Kansas. Of those, 18 chose to practice in rural communities, or 56 percent. That's up from 19 percent in 2010 and an average of 35 percent the previous five years, Poss said.
Comparable numbers from the other two KU medical campuses weren't immediately available.
Allure of rural medicine
Loney said part of the allure of rural medicine was the broad range of work involved.
"You're going to work in the ER, you're going to admit your own patients to the hospital, you're going to deliver babies, you're going to do your own procedures — things that in the big city you don't do," Loney said.
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