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McPherson doctor leads in recruiting, training of rural surgeons

Faced with the formidable task of recruiting and training enough doctors to replace a retiring generation, Kansas education leaders would like to find more medical students like David Le, who are willing to work in the state’s rural and underserved areas.

Le’s from western Kansas and sees himself going back there some day to practice.

The third-year student at the University of Kansas Medical Center said his thinking on the matter crystallized during a recent rural surgery preceptorship with Dr. Tyler Hughes in McPherson.

“His practice is very alluring,” Le said. "I could see making a career out of serving in a rural community, a community hospital, sort of the same feel as McPherson where everybody knows one another."

"There were a few times (Hughes) said, 'Well, you can. Rural surgeons are highly sought after.' He really was encouraging of it," he said.

"That's something I'd want to do after I've received more of my training in a larger setting."

In that respect, he could follow Hughes’ lead.

After working 15 years at a large hospital in his native Dallas, Hughes picked up his family and moved 400 miles north to a Kansas town where he could be a “real surgeon,” averting the administrative track he was on, he said.

"I wanted to take care of patients and I felt there was a need out in the rural environment," Hughes said.

That was 17 years ago. Since then, he has trained some 80 students, most of them through KU’s program. But he also has let younger area youngsters interested in medicine shadow him on the job, sometimes with pay.

"When I was 17, going on 18, I wanted to be a surgeon. An orthopedic surgeon from my town named Dave Selby heard about it, and he invited me to do it and he paid me a small amount,” Hughes said. “I thought that was incredibly wonderful and I promised myself that I would always teach, even if I had to pay the students myself."

Currently Hughes’ practice in McPherson offers KU’s only rural surgery preceptorship in the state.

Overnight sensation

Hughes’ drive to extend his formative experiences to others was recognized this month at the National Rural Health Association’s annual conference, where he was named 2012 Rural Health Practitioner of the Year, a national honor.

The distinction comes on the heels of Hughes’ appointment in February to a six-year term as at-large director of the American Board of Surgery.

Le said that Hughes was clearly surprised by the recent accolades.

"He said he's not done anything different the last 30 years, but it kind of seems overnight he's become this huge sensation," Le said. "I think he embraces it fully because he likes the ability to give input to the profession. He likes teaching."

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