New UI program looks to address rural physician shortage - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New UI program looks to address rural physician shortage

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Patrick Floyd of Vinton recalls when he needed an emergency appendectomy. The problem, he says, was the only doctor in town that could perform the procedure was out of town.

Floyd was forced to look more than 30 miles away to Cedar Rapids for emergency surgery.

"The day I had my appendix out, it was probably the longest day I ever had," he said. 

Floyd's experience represents the physician shortage plaguing many parts of rural Iowa.

"There seems to be a trend not only in Iowa, but I think nationally for people to be moving more toward urban areas," said Dr. Chris Cooper, UI Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Curriculum .

The University of Iowa has started a loan repayment program which would pay UI medical students up to $100,000 for practicing for five years in qualifying rural areas after their residencies.

"We'll continue to encourage our students to practice in areas that are needed, but this is just a start," Cooper said.

UI medical student Whitney Kaefring is one of four to qualify for the brand new program.

"I'm really passionate about Iowa.  I really like the state.  I really want to be here," she said.

The financial help means Kaefring, who grew up in Solon, will be in a better position to achieve her dream and practice medicine in a small town.

"I can go to a community that needs me and that will be the lifestyle that I want and that will be filled with people that will benefit from my medical care and medical training that I can get here."

The UI's program is more than just a loan payback.  It focuses on training students in the rural elements of medicine, helping them to better care for people in a rural setting.

The program is only open to Iowans and only four students are admitted each year.

UI leaders are looking to the state to help grow the program.

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