Rural Medicine: In Critical Condition Part IV

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Updated: Mon, 26 May 2014 10:17:22 CST

Small town doctors in Nebraska are in short supply and they're getting ready to retire, putting the health of rural communities in jeopardy.

In the final part of her series – Rural Medicine: In Critical Condition, News 5's Kelly Baumgarten continues her talk with a long time country doctor about the shortage and possible solutions.

Doctor Keith Shuey believes more medical schools need to work on recruiting students from rural communities. Dr. Shuey also says that the greater use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants could improve rural medicine.

Only 25% of newly educated doctors go into primary care and less than 5% of physicians go on to practice in rural communities, that's according to researchers at the George Washington University. Dr. Keith Shuey is one of the few primary care doctors left in rural Nebraska.

"When I go to a doc meeting, especially family practice docs... there's a lot of them sitting there with gray hair like I am and they're gonna retire at some point in time and that's the big thing."

Dr. Shuey thinks medical schools need to focus on recruiting students from small towns. That way they can fill the shoes of rural Nebraska's aging physicians But there's another solution. Nurse Practitioners and Physician's Assistants.

"I see the real need for more pas and nps in rural Nebraska just because I think that that is a great way for us to extend our care out in rural Nebraska."

Meet Kathryn Griess. She's worked alongside Dr. Shuey's for several months.

"In rural areas theres not as much technology. we don't have ultrasounds services here 24/7 we have to make it work but thats part of why i love rural medicine too because you don't have access to everything so you have to think on your feet."

Kathryn grew up in small town. She said the interaction with rural patients is irreplaceable.

"I had a patient last week that she said thank you and said that I was the greatest person ever and gave me a huge hug and I saw her at the grocery store the next day little things like that you wouldn't get in a bigger town."

Shuey: "That's probably one of the joys of living in a small town because your life your profession is intertwined with the patients' lives."

But having close relationships with your patients does have its challenges...

Doctor Shuey recalls one Christmas Eve when he was called to a fatal car accident.

He had to notify his best friend that his son died.

"It was not a fun deal to walk into a house here's everything ready for Christmas with presents and tell them that your son was killed in a car accident, that was probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me. Nobody ever told me I had to do that but that's the job I signed on for."

Working under Dr. Shuey...Katherine has quickly learned that practicing medicine in a rural town requires much more than just conducting a routine checkup.

"Maybe I'm not seeing as many patients as people up in Lincoln or Omaha would in a day but it's kind of like being on call 24/7 because everybody here in town knows me and they know that I'm a pa and so if they have questions it might not be office hours but they're still gonna ask them."

An advanced rural training program is open to UNMC seniors who want to practice rural. It offers them a tuition waiver for their senior year of medical school. The program places students in rural towns like Tecumseh, where they can gain hands on experience practicing in small communities.