Today@Sam Article

College of Osteopathic Medicine, Texas Rural Health Association Address Rural Community Healthcare Needs

Sept. 29, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

COMBuildingSignEngaging stakeholders to confront rural healthcare workforce needs headlined a two-day conference hosted at Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (SHSU-COM) in conjunction with the Texas Rural Health Association (TRHA), Sept. 20-21 in Conroe, Texas.            

The conference brought together a variety of rural health stakeholders ranging from the American Heart Association to SHSU’s Institute for Homeland Security (SHSU-IHC). Keynote speakers described the efforts and resources their organizations offer to help rural healthcare systems survive, and more proactively, to thrive.

TRHA President Mike Easley discussed workforce needs and emerging solutions such as telemedicine and bandwidth requirements needed to address healthcare gaps in rural areas.

“This is TRHA’s first joint conference on a medical school campus which is common ground for rural healthcare discussions,” Easley said.

With a mission of improving primary healthcare in rural East Texas, Dr. Thomas J. Mohr, dean of SHSU-COM explained how the school aims to attract students from rural areas and send them back to those regions for clinical training during their final years of medical school. Statistics show that student doctors are more likely to take first jobs and potentially establish careers in the areas where they complete their residencies, especially when the communities are welcoming and accommodating.

“TRHA has been working to improve the health of rural Texans since 1984 and SHSU-COM is pleased to be collaborating with this great organization to further advance that goal,” Mohr said.

SHSU Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Michael T. Stephenson and Dr. Nancy Dickey with Texas A&M Rural & Community Health Institute.SHSU-COM was established in 2020. The first cohort will complete their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees this May and then enter residency training programs. SHSU-COM launched its first rural family medicine residency in partnership with Huntsville Memorial Hospital this year. More rural and community-based residency programs are in development.

John Henderson with The Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals said his organization acts as a conduit by encouraging student doctors to consider careers in rural Texas counties defined as having a population of less than 67,750 people.          

“Don’t think that you can’t make a good living in rural communities. People I work with will do a lot to make their town attractive,” Henderson said. “Rural hospital grants and loan payoff programs are often available to help with med school students’ financial obligations, and communities are getting more creative with things like housing opportunities.”

John Suarez with SHSU’s Institute for Homeland Security addressed the need for partnerships and aligning with community needs in rural healthcare settings. For example, SHSU-IHS can provide rural healthcare facilities with information and training on multiple areas of concern including cybersecurity, rural coordination for emergency scenarios and workplace violence related training for security staff.

“SHSU-COM and TRHA provide programs that align with the workforce mission of addressing the needs of rural and underserved communities,” said Courtney West, senior associate dean for education affairs in SHSU-COM. 

West presented student services programs which highlight the path to medicine such as SHSU-COM Enrollment Services pipelines, Med-Tor Medical Student Organization mentoring and teaching, and SHSU You Can D.O. Medicine Camp.

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