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A passion for rural medicine rooted in an OHSU experience

Mark Richardson & Lisa DodsonRural Oregon is vast. Consequently, Oregonians who live in the far corners of the state – and the physicians who provide their care – need an ambitious champion to voice their unique needs. Lisa Grill Dodson, M.D. R’91, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Director, Oregon Area Health Education Centers, has for 18 years cast herself in this demanding role.

“Almost everything I do has some kind of advocacy for rural medicine behind it,” said Dr. Dodson. “I was very fortunate to have mentors who made it possible for me to consider even going to a rural place to practice.”

Dr. Dodson completed her residency in family medicine at OHSU in 1991 and then practiced for seven years in the frontier community of John Day, Ore., where she and her partners hosted medical students and residents. Dr. Dodson returned to the OHSU faculty in 1999. She called herself “very fortunate” to have been mentored at that time by John Saultz, M.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Family Medicine; Bob Taylor, M.D., Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the department; and J.S. “Dutch” Reinschmidt, M.D., former Associate Dean for Medical Education, and founder of the Oregon AHEC program.

“If I hadn’t come to OHSU specifically, and in that particular moment in history, I doubt very much that I would have gone into rural medicine,” said Dr. Dodson. “In fact, I probably would have done something totally different.”

Calling a physician’s residency training “the foundation for subsequent work,” Dr. Dodson emphasized the continuing need for the type of education she received, which combines thorough preparation with effective mentorship. “In order to feel comfortable practicing in rural communities, residents need to have broad training that helps them recognize and meet the needs of these underserved communities.”

Many areas in Oregon have a need for more physicians. Fifteen of Oregon’s 36 counties contain geographic Health Professional Shortage Areas for primary care, according to 2010 data from the Office of Rural Health.

Under Dr. Dodson’s leadership, the School of Medicine has instituted two educational tracks designed to help reverse the rural provider shortage. The Rural Community Health Clerkship is a five-week requirement for third year medical students, which allows them to experience firsthand the challenges and joys of a rural practice. The Oregon Rural Scholars program began earlier this year, and it gives third-year medical students a more lengthy rotation – 14 weeks – in rural areas of the state. Dr. Dodson said all nine participants in the inaugural group intend to practice in a rural area and plan to go into family medicine or general surgery, specialties most needed in rural communities.

“The Rural Scholars Program allows students to immerse themselves in the culture of rural living during a formative time in their career,” she said. “We’ve received twice as many applications from the incoming class as we have slots, so it looks like the program has a promising future.”

Lisa DodsonDr. Dodson’s work has not gone unrecognized. In July 2009 she was named Oregon Family Doctor of the Year by the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians. School of Medicine Dean Mark Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., presented her with the 2010 Dean’s Award.

In presenting the award, Dean Richardson called her “truly the wonder woman of rural health care.” But true to her unassuming style, Dr. Dodson is humble even when compared to a superheroine. “I have a tremendous amount of passion and energy for what I do, and anyone can look like Wonder Woman if they love what they do. But I also have the resources – an amazing husband and kids, a great staff, a supportive school – that contribute to what is truly a team effort.”

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