Updated: 11/05/2015 7:08 PM
Created: 11/05/2015 5:55 PM KSTP.com
By: Todd Wilson
Jessica Olen says she was taking a course at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and came across the mission statement of their medical school, which she said struck her like a ton of bricks. She stood there and said to herself that she was capable of becoming a doctor.
Olen got home that night and told her husband what she wanted to do. Heading back to school for Olen was scary but not impossible for her to do. Soon after she signed up and was on her way to medical school. The once science teacher is now a fourth-year medical student at UMD.
Right now she is preparing for her residency. Her intention is to head back to Mora to work as a physician. To ensure her return, she made a deal with Firstlight Health System.
“The agreement we arrived at is they’re supporting me tuition-wise, and I will work for them as a family physician,” she said.
Striving to work in rural Minnesota falls in line with UMD’s mentality. They have a program called RPAP or Rural Physician Program. The program allows medical students in their third year to do a rotation of nine-months to gain experience in rural communities.
“They’ll be suturing, they’ll be assisting in surgery, they’ll be doing deliveries,” Dr. Peter Donner said.
He went through the program himself. In fact, five of the eight physicians at Firstlight went through the program. He says there’s a huge need for rural physicians in primary care, general surgery and obstetrics.
“Impending need in the next 10 years is more and more dire. If you get further rural up to Indian Reservations, if you get up to the far Northern Minnesota it’s dire,” Donner said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only about 11 percent of the nation’s physicians work in rural areas, despite nearly 20 percent of Americans living there.
Olen says if everything goes to plan, she will be a physician by summer of 2019.