Mizzou Program Trying to Alleviate Shortage

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MACON - Julie Burdin has always wanted to practice medicine in one setting.

"I always wanted to practice in small town," Burdin said.

Burdin has worked at Total Family Health Care in Macon for the past nine years. Working in a small town such as Macon presents its challenges.

"Practicing medicine like this in small town means you really have be a jack of all trades," Burdin said. "When you know you have send a patient to a larger center for specialty care you are more inclined to do more yourself."

Small town Missouri is currently facing a shortage of doctors. 103 of the 114 counties in Missouri are considered rural. 43 of those rural counties do not have a hospital. The ratio of doctors to patients is 3,500 to 1; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a ratio of 2,000 to 1. Even those with hospitals are also seeing a shortage. This includes Mid-Missouri. Every county except for Boone is experiencing a shortage.

It is a problem the University of Missouri Medical School is trying to address. In 1995 the school created the Rural Tract Pipeline Program. The program's goal is to help supply more small town doctors by persuading its students from small towns to go back there and practice. Students who go through program must train in small towns such as Boonville.

"We have found that doctors who train for a rural setting are more likely to practice rural medicine compared to those who did not receive that training," said program director Kathleen Quinn.

Burdin did her clinical rotation in Boonville and Rolla. "The program simply reaffirmed my goal of becoming a rural doctor," Burdin said.

Many of her patients come from miles around. Pam Ross, who live in Clerence, Missouri has been a patient of Burdin's for two years.

"I have to drive a half hour to see Dr. Burdin," Ross said. "If her practice was not here I would have to drive an hour and a half away to Columbia."

Burdin is not alone. There are 145 graduates of the program practicing all over the state of Missouri.

Among them is Laura Morris, a 2007 graduate who practices in Fulton. She feels rural doctors experience something others do not.

"You get greater satisfaction practicing rural medicine," Morris said. "Practicing in a small town is very rewarding. In my opinion the connection with the community and the patients is often deeper."

Even though the program has helped alleviate the problem, Ross feels the need is still there.

"We need more doctors out here," Ross said. "Country doctors are hard to find."