Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones – and the longest lasting. Since 1972, the National Health Service Corps has been connecting providers who want to serve with communities that need them. I know first-hand the benefits of the Corps. I served in Zuni, New Mexico for more than six years after I graduated from medical school and became a family doctor. As a primary care physician for the Zuni Tribe, I took care of patients, learning about the community and how the culture and environment affected the health of a population.
In Oregon, members of the National Health Service Corps serve some 295,000 Oregonians each year through more than 110 approved clinics in 29 counties. It can be very difficult to recruit and retain qualified primary care physicians to serve in our state. Even when providers want to serve within these communities, they may not be able to afford it due to substantial medical school loan debt.
That's why this program is critically important to help close the need gap in underserved Oregon. Members of the Corps gain valuable experience and receive assistance repaying medical school loans. And people they serve receive the care they need within their own community.
The work of the Corps aligns perfectly with Oregon's health system transformation. Many of the clinics where Corps members serve are patient-centered primary care homes, which means that not only are the patients receiving enhanced care, the providers are learning best practices in care coordination that they will carry with them for the rest of their careers. We will, in time, be able to expand their ranks. Thanks to our recent Medicaid waiver with the federal government, Oregon will be able to establish our own loan repayment program for physicians who work in rural or underserved communities.
I will never forget the time I spent in national service. In many ways it has defined me as a doctor and as a citizen.
That is why next week I’ll be observing National Primary Care Week and, on Oct. 11, National Health Service Corps Community Day. Events are scheduled in local communities to celebrate local Corps members and the clinics where they serve. If there is an event near you, I encourage you to learn more.
Learn more about events National Health Service Corps events taking place in Oregon.