MU medical student Kayla Matzek is working at Cox Hospital in Branson, Missouri this summer. While a community with a population of only 10,000 might not seem attractive to some medical students, southwest Missouri is right where Matzek wants to be.
“I specifically want to go to a rural community because I think that you just get to know people more and it’s more of an intimate setting,” said Matzek, who grew up in a small town less than 30 minutes away from Branson.
Matzek is one of 19 students from the MU School of Medicine who chose to participate in the Rural Summer Community Program. Rural hospitals throughout the state play host to these students each summer, often providing room and board and even a stipend for the participants.
According to Kathleen Quinn, Associate Dean for Rural Health Programs, this program can help rural hospitals compete with their urban and suburban counterparts.
“I think the hospitals understand that their part in recruiting students is reliant on the support they give the students while they’re there,” Quinn said.
This support from rural hospitals seems to be winning over more future doctors. 46 percent of students who participated in the rural summer community program practiced medicine in rural areas after graduation.
Quinn said the program is so successful because students get to see what it’s actually like to be a small town doctor.
“It’s really a different experience being in a small town regardless of whether you’re a physician or not,” said Jesse Day, an MU medical student working at a clinic in Poplar Bluff.
Like Matzek, Day grew up in a rural community. But he said he was surprised by the limitations that come with practicing in a small town.
“A lot of the things that you can do are really dependent on what your clinic has or what breaks down in the lab or what the hospital here can actually do,” Day said. “You end up sending a lot of people that you can’t quite help all the way up to St. Louis or Cape Girardeau.”
A lack of resources and the absence of specialists are just two of the many difficulties rural physicians face.
“My main worry going into primary care is that you’re going to rack up $200,000 of loans and then not be making a whole bunch of money to be able to pay back those loans,” said Matzek. “I think that’s the main thing I’ve heard from my classmates too.”
Despite these limitations, both Matzek and Day plan to return to rural areas to become primary care doctors. Quinn said this motivation is common among medical students who come from small towns.
“They want to give back and address the issues that they observed growing up and living in those communities,” Quinn said. “Hopefully through the [Rural Summer Community] program, some of those issues of maldistribution and lack of access will be addressed.