Building bridges to rural practice

Thanks to state-sponsored rural health incentive programs, the next generation of providers is finding a match in rural practice. 

By Suzi Steffen, photo by Fred Joe (originally published by OHSU in Fall 2018)

Dr. Anisa RichardsonAlaska to Astoria

Up in Astoria, Oregon, Primary Care Loan Forgiveness (PCLF) recipient and family physician Anisa Richardson, MD ’14 gets ready for work at Columbia Memorial Hospital Primary Care Clinic just down Highway 101 in Warrenton. She and her family live in Astoria, and she drives over a big bridge for work. No, not that big bridge over the Columbia River to Washington, but the bridge over the Youngs River between Astoria and Warrenton. 

On her drive, she does what many Oregonians do during their commutes: she appreciates Oregon’s natural beauty. “The drive is so spectacular,” she said. “The tide is always changing, and I pass through a bird sanctuary.”

On her way to work, she can transition into professional mode, and on her way home from work, she can let the stresses of the day fall away as she heads back to her family. “These are the bookends, the beginning and end of every day,” she said. 

That’s part of the reason she and her family live on the North Coast. She grew up in a fishing village in Alaska and took what she calls “a long and circuitous path toward medicine.” The PCLF program and a lot of child care support from her parents helped her through medical school and her residencies caring for underserved populations in Vancouver, Washington, and Astoria. 

PCLF awards up to $35,000 per award year. MD students are eligible for up to two years of funding, and NP and PA students are eligible for one year. PCLF students must complete a service obligation that is equal to the years of funding they receive.

To be sure, PCLF only partially defrays the cost of a medical education. “It was a little, tiny garnish, which was lovely,” Dr. Richardson said. “But is this really something that is going to motivate people to move to rural Oregon? There should be fewer roadblocks.”

For Dr. Richardson, it was finding her place in rural Oregon that sold her. She and her family visited many rural sites before she got the job offer from Columbia Memorial. “Every day since we got here, it’s been so ridiculous, I can’t believe this is our life!” she said. “I’m not a cheesy person, but I have such a visceral connection to this place.”

And she knows that the nature of rural life means that the personal and professional can intertwine. “Sometimes I don’t look [professionally] appropriate, but I just need to go to Fred Meyer to get something,” she said. “Don’t call me out! I know I look terrible, I’m covered in paint!”

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