News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 29, 2014

Lugar Center leads effort to nurture rural physicians

TERRE HAUTE — Through the Lugar Center for Rural Health and other initiatives, Terre Haute has taken a lead in helping meet the regional and state need for primary care doctors in rural settings, says Dr. Jim Turner, the center’s medical director.

“We’re very much so a leader,” he said. “No one in the Midwest is doing what we are doing.”

The mission of the Union Hospital Lugar Center is “to advance rural health through education, innovation and collaboration.”

The Lugar Center partners with Indiana State University College of Nursing, Health and Human Services; the Indiana University School of Medicine-Terre Haute; and Union Health Systems. It also works closely with Union Family Medicine Center residents who have an interest in rural practice.

Those used to urban areas often want to stay in urban areas, Turner said. “You have to grow your own” rural physicians and find students in rural areas who want to study medicine and then return to their roots.

“We’ve tried to do that … and help provide a pathway to get them back to rural areas,” he said.

Students who qualify can obtain their bachelor’s degrees and complete four years of medical school — with a rural health emphasis — while in Terre Haute. It’s called the bachelor’s to medical degree program (B/MD) and is offered jointly by ISU and the IU School of Medicine.

A student wanting to practice rural medicine could spend all 11 years in Terre Haute through bachelor’s, medical school and residency programs, Turner said. “There is a solid pipeline if you want to be a rural physician.”

Through the Lugar Center, different groups came together to help develop curriculum and programs, Turner said.

The IU School of Medicine-Terre Haute began a rural health medical track in 2008 to help meet the needs of underserved rural communities, said Dr. Peter Duong, director.

Students pursue the rural health track there as part of their four years of medical school.  The program has graduated about 35 physicians so far, with about 74 percent going into primary care.

“I think that so far, it’s been very successful,” Duong said.

The program is still too young to tell how many of the graduates will go to rural areas to practice medicine. The first class of residents will graduate next spring.

But Duong did say, “Some of our students already have contracts with some of the rural hospitals to work there after their residency,” Duong said.

In yet another part of the rural health care equation, the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative was formed in 2008 to address health care worker shortages in the Wabash Valley, particularly in rural areas.

It has more than a dozen partners,  including ISU, the Lugar Center and IU School of Medicine. Its mission is to improve and expand inter-professional education and training of future health care workers, especially for those committed to serving rural areas.

It also is working to be an economic engine for west-central Indiana, through development of health care related jobs and as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization in Terre Haute.

“Valley organizations are really collaborating to help bolster our capacity to meet this need” of providing doctors and other health care workers in rural, underserved areas, said Stephanie Laws, RHIC executive director.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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