- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

MONTGOMERY, Ala.

Dr. Deanah Maxwell knows there are times she’ll be stopped in the grocery store or at church for advice — sometimes not even medical advice. But for her, that’s half the appeal of being a small-town doctor.

church for advice — sometimes not even medical advice. But for her, that’s half the appeal of being a small-town doctor.

The Tuskegee native plans to return to her hometown, with its population of less than 12,000, to set up practice after finishing her residency in Tuscaloosa. But Dr. Maxwell acknowledges that the increased social obligations that come with being a rural doctor aren’t for everyone.

“When you go back into a rural area as a professional, you can’t just go back as a person in that profession,” Dr. Maxwell said. “People look to you for guidance in areas other than, say, just medicine, so there’s a greater sense of responsibility.”

To help prepare for the role, Dr. Maxwell has participated in the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline programs at the University of Alabama. The programs, similar to ones across the country, recruit students from rural areas, give them specific medical training and help prepare them to be community leaders.

Expanding and improving rural health care is a cause that is dear to program founder and director Dr. John Wheat, who received the Distinguished Educator Award from the National Rural Health Association in May.

“I am a product of rural Alabama, and I am very much aware of the different opportunities to get medical care that exist there versus in urban and suburban Alabama,” said Dr. Wheat, who grew up mostly in rural Sumter County.

Dale Quinney of the Alabama Office of Primary Care and Rural Health said that in 2006, there were 907 primary care physicians in Alabama’s 55 rural counties and 2,137 primary care physicians in 12 urban counties.

Dr. Wheat said studies have shown that students from rural backgrounds are more likely to live and work in rural areas than students who are not from a rural area.

The Rural Medical Scholars program, started in 1996, each year accepts 10 medical-school students who have lived in rural Alabama for at least eight years and who are interested in practicing in rural areas.

Dr. Wheat said that in the past four years, the program has turned out 15 doctors who are currently practicing in rural Alabama.