Monday, November 24, 2008

Choosing to practice in an underserved community

When I entered medical school, I had decided that I wanted to practice medicine in an underserved area. So what is a medically underserved area (MUA)?

There are many ways MUAs are identified. Mostly they involve considering the number of primary care doctors (Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine) in relation to the area's population. In my case, I was looking at both federal- and state-designated MUAs. I couldn't really see the value in being another doctor working in another well-off community when there were (and are) so many MUAs. Medicine is inherently a service career; I wanted my service to be meaningful.

My interest in working in a MUA developed after I spent a weekend on Virginia's Eastern Shore in 1995, during my senior year in college. I had never really spent much time in a rural area before. The Eastern Shore is only a 30 minute drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Virginia Beach, but at that time it felt like another world. Poverty, poor health care access and poor health outcomes were endemic. This experience helped me decide that I wanted to make a difference, and service in a MUA seemed the right way to do it.

So I entered medical school committed to practicing in a rural underserved community. Then, I had to figure out what sort of doctor I wanted to be.

(to be continued...)


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