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KCU graduate uses her personal story as motivation to fill gap in physician shortage

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Posted at 6:50 PM, May 02, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo — A growing physician shortage in rural counties is one of the biggest challenges in healthcare.

The need inspired a Kansas City University graduate to help fill the gap.

Anne Ast graduated with a doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine.

Her dream was to study and go back to her farming community in rural Kansas.

She grew up in Conway Springs, Ks., a town of about 800 people while she was growing up. It is primarily a farming community.

The small town has a clinic six minutes away, but the closest hospital is 30 minutes out.

And in case of any urgent needs, Ast had to travel over 30 miles northeast to Wichita.

“Here they are, they are feeding all of America, some of the world. You know what I mean? And who’s there to care for them?” said Ast. “There is a real deficit and I want to be someone who can, you know, start making steps towards minimizing that. But I also recognize that one person and one hospital is not necessarily all that it takes.”

90 percent of counties in Kansas and Missouri are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Health Professional Shortage Areas are geographic areas of populations that don't have enough health care providers to meet the health care needs of that population

In addition to the lack of resources, Ast says it is her mission to change the mentality of many of her neighbors.

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She lost her father to COVID-19 after she says he waited too long to see a doctor. He was the first confirmed case in Sumner County.

“There wasn’t a lot of research into COVID, so I’m not sure that much could have been done at that point in time," Ast said. "But there are very real pathologies that can be prevented and there is a very real category of people who just refuse to go in.”

According to Dr. Richard Schooler at KCU, there are several reasons for the physician shortage, including the state of the economy, a desire to live in larger city, and lack of residency programs in rural areas.

That is why KCU opened its Joplin campus and launched five residency programs.

“Again, the intent is to keep those students there after they graduate,” said Schooler. “We know that when students graduate and go to a metropolitan area for their post graduate training, their residency, more than half of those historically are going to stay in the region.”

He is hopeful that more funding will lead to better recruitment and retention. Right now, there is momentum in federal legislation and states offering loan repayments for students who become physicians and practice in small towns.

“More medical schools, more universities are developing second campuses like we have in a more rural area,” said Schooler.

Dr. Schooler says students with ties to rural backgrounds like Ast are two to three times more likely to practice in small towns.

Ast and her mother, Paula Ast, agree the return on investment is endless.

“Like, in Conway, you’re a person and not just a 10 minute appointment kind of thing," said Paula Ast. "I think there’s a lot more compassion, understanding. They get connected with their patients quite well. So I think that you will be loved and well-treated in a rural community."