Claremore Daily Progress

State/Nation

September 2, 2013

Oklahoma in a doctor drought

Rogers County among 5 counties without shortage

(Continued)

NORMAN —

“In a small town, you have to do everything. Some new doctors, they just don’t want that life.”
Sultan came to Frederick about 20 years ago after emigrating from Syria and receiving medical training in Canada. A friend referred her to Frederick.
“After four months, I was going to leave like everybody else,” Sultan said. But the hospital, which was having difficulty with finances and a lack of doctors, pleaded with her to stay. “I have been here for 20 years,” she said. “You don’t see too many people like me.”
According to licensure records, Sultan is one of only three licensed physicians – two M.D.s and one osteopathic doctor – in Tillman County.
Sultan said she often misses the amenities that urban areas offer, but she has enjoyed working in a tight-knit community.
“I love the patients. I care for them, they care for me,” Sultan said. “They’re very loyal, and I’m loyal to them.”
Lure of the city: It is the big-city amenities and educational and professional resources that draw many physicians away from rural areas, said Rick Ernest, executive director of the Oklahoma Physician Manpower Training Commission, a state agency responsible for encouraging physicians to locate in underserved areas.
“When you’re in a rural community with one or two doctors, you spend every other night or every third night on call. That get’s pretty old,” Ernest said.
More new physicians are choosing specialty practice, Ernest said, because they can earn more and pay off their sizable debt from medical school more quickly. 
Most of the specialty practices are located in urban areas, he said. To encourage doctors to practice in rural areas, Ernest’s commission has worked with the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to fund a $5 million, five-year program to help pay off doctors’ student debts in exchange for them agreeing to practice in a rural area, Ernest said.

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