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Bringing doctors to rural areas

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 12:24 PM CDT
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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - A study published in the Journal of Healthcare Communications from 2018 found doctor patient relationships improved health outcomes for everyone, but especially people in rural communities.

A residency program in Wisconsin is readying new doctors to help women thrive in small towns across the country.

Health disparities between rural and urban communities continue to worsen -- with outcomes especially bad for women’s health.

Wisconsin’s infant mortality rate is higher than the U.S. on average and a lack of reliable health care during pregnancy accounts for some of those deaths.

“Even just here in Wisconsin, people have to drive in some cases 30 to 60 minutes or greater to get a basic ultrasound, a basic prenatal visit,” said Dr. Ryan Spenser, the residency program director for OB-GYN at the University of Wisconsin.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimate the current shortage of six-to-eight-thousand OB-GYN’s could triple over the next three decades.

Wisconsin is especially hard hit -- 27 of the states 72 counties having no OB-GYN provider.

“So many people live in smaller communities, smaller counties, who have great physicians in them, just not enough,” said Dr. Spencer.

All this makes Dr. Laura McDowell, the first rural OB-GYN graduate, a truly in-demand professional.

“It’s such a value to those women to be able to stay in their communities where they feel the most comfortable rather than having to travel such a far distance for care when they’re already feeling vulnerable and scared,” said Dr. McDowell.

The residency training program started at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in September 2016.

Dr. McDowell will be the first graduate of its rural OB-GYN focus.

“I think now that time is coming to the end, it’s becoming a little more apparent that this more monumental than I probably understand at this point.”

Training doctors in rural communities doesn’t just expose them to the needs and concerns of small towns -- it also makes them more likely to live in those towns and cities after they graduate.

“Once you’re able to establish that I’m here, I’m here to stay, and you know, you can connect with me, I think that only helps your health care,” said Dr. McDowell.

Dr. McDowell has big hopes for the future of programs like hers.

“I’m hopeful that this will be one of many that goes across the nation and am so grateful that they started this program and feel very honored and special to be a part of it.”

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