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Guest Comment: Keeping rural health in mind

America’s health care system is in the midst of a much-needed overhaul. It’s currently too complex and expensive. It values disease treatment over prevention. As a result, Americans pay some of the highest health care costs, while our quality of care is only average when compared worldwide.

OHSU is proud to be part of state and federal efforts to improve health care for Oregonians. We look forward to many of these changes, including increased access to insurance, greater emphasis on preventive care and incentives that improve quality.

However, that’s not all that needs to change. We also need to reform health education so providers are prepared to navigate the new waters ahead. How we educate future health care professionals must match society’s goals.

At OHSU, the next phase of health care education is literally taking shape along Portland’s South Waterfront. Teaching facilities in the future OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences Building will allow us to train health care teams. Physicians, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacy students will learn side by side so that they can later practice side by side.

In the OHSU School of Medicine, we are transforming our curriculum to meet the challenges and opportunities of a changing health care system. OHSU’s last major curriculum update was in 1994. With health care reform, an evolution in training is a logical step at this time.

The new curriculum, which is currently in development, will reflect the changing face of health care. We are excited to share these plans as they take shape.

As part of this process, concerns have surfaced that OHSU’s education commitments to rural Oregon will change. Let me say, unequivocally, they will not. In fact, we plan to expand these educational offerings as part of OHSU’s mission to improve the health of all Oregonians.

For several years, OHSU has required all medical students to perform a five-week rotation in a state-designated rural community. This experience allows students to understand the unique health care needs of rural residents. Some of these students return to rural Oregon to practice, but even if they don’t, the knowledge gained through these experiences makes them better physicians. In addition, the health care landscape appears to be moving away from hospital-based care toward more outpatient care. This means our partnerships for teaching students in all types of community outpatient settings – such as rural Oregon – are more important than ever.

Looking forward, we plan to expand. First, as OHSU increases our medical school class size to meet demands, we need to locate additional sites in rural Oregon where students can conduct rotations. We hope to build new rotations where students can learn in health teams, just as they will at the new South Waterfront facility in Portland. We also hope to find opportunities for students in other disciplines that are also needed in rural Oregon, such as psychiatry. These expansions will benefit students and communities alike.

These efforts will complement many other programs that already serve rural Oregonians. One example is the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education, a partnership between OHSU and other nursing programs across the state to ensure we have enough nurses in the future. OHSU and hospitals throughout the state also use telemedicine video links between facilities, so physicians can collaboratively treat patients. As a result, patients can receive care faster and often avoid costly trips to Portland for specialized care.

We’re excited about the future of health care across the state, from our large cities to our smallest communities. It’s a commitment throughout our history and our future.

Learn more about the M.D. Curriculum Transformation Initiative: www.ohsu.edu/newcurriculum

Dr. Mark Richardson is dean of the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine.

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