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Facing Utah’s Physician Shortage Head On: Getting More Physicians to Utah’s Rural Communities

Utah, along with much of the nation, is facing an alarming physician shortage. As the only academic training ground for physicians in the state and across much of the region, it is the University of Utah’s responsibility to train the health care providers of the future and to address this issue immediately.

Utah now ranks 4th from the bottom in the number of primary care physicians per capita, while simultaneously ranking among the fastest growing states in the nation. The physician shortage poses a serious threat to the viability and health of the state.

“The best way to get more doctors working in our rural communities is to expand our ability to educate doctors right here in Utah,” said Dr. Vivian S. Lee, Dean of the University’s School of Medicine. She pointed to the importance of Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senator John Valentine, which proposes a law to support the expansion of the University of Utah’s School of Medicine class size. “The question sometimes arises as to whether we can we fill the 40 additional seats with qualified students, and the answer is always: undoubtedly.”

Lee said she’s working with the alumni association to raise funds for scholarships and/or loan forgiveness programs for students who commit to primary care in under-serviced areas.

Here are a few examples of these unique students:

KADE LYMAN – Blanding, Utah

Kade Lyman

A couple of sports-related surgeries in high school got Kade interested in the health care field. But everything really clicked when he worked as a Certified Medical Assistant in Montezuma Creek on the Navajo Reservation while as an undergrad at Brigham Young University.

The only member of his high school class who went on to medical school, Kade wants to increase those numbers by taking his experiences back to Blanding and other small Utah towns with Utah Rural Outreach Program (UROP). Kade has been visiting high schools explaining the process so that a seemingly impossible dream can become a very attainable goal for other students.

KATIE BONEBRAKE – Cedar City, Utah

Katie Bonebrake

With a pair of wildlife biologists as parents, it’s not surprising that Katie grew up loving the outdoors, animals, and science. She earned a degree in neuroscience at Westminster College and is now a second-semester medical student at the U.

Katie is proud of what she’s achieved so far — and she wants to ensure that more young people get the chance to do what she has done. That’s why she works with the UROP visiting high schools and telling students, “You can get into medicine. You can do this.”

ANDREW CHRISTENSEN – Price, Utah

Andrew Christensen

Andrew played high school sports, enjoyed the outdoors and always liked the sciences. A job at the pulmonary lab at University of Utah Hospital while pursuing his biology undergraduate degree opened the door to a world of new possibilities. “I realized that was the setting I wanted to be in.”

Now he’s in med school at the U and thinking about anesthesiology. Andrew also enjoys taking his experiences back to Price and other small Utah towns with UROP. He hopes to encourage other students to enter medical school and give back to the rural communities of Utah.

Help the University of Utah educate more medical students like Andrew, Katie and Kade. Call or write your legislator and ask to expand opportunities for rural students by supporting Senate Bill 42.