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Omdahl: Bakken doctor joins med school recruitment

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Dr. Gary Ramage of Watford City, a strong advocate of recruiting family practitioners for smaller communities, has underlined his interest in a response to last week’s column on the crisis in medical education. Here are his comments, slightly edited for style.

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“I read your article, ‘A city of 65,000 and no additional doctors.’ Thank you for referencing my concern on the shortage of rural physicians in North Dakota. It is a concern for many other than myself.

In no correspondence or conversation with you do I recall being critical of the University of North Dakota or the process by which they choose students. In fact, I look forward to working with UND in the fall of 2014 to recruit students to rural medicine slots that exist at UND, both for medical school and residency.

While there are UND critics who share some of my ideas, I do not necessarily share their vocal opposition to the UND medical student selection process. Nor do I have any opinion as to whether this ‘process’ affects ‘access’ to heath care in Watford City or in North Dakota generally.

My position is and has always been that government, rural health care facilities and UND should work together to encourage university students to not only enter the College of Medicine but to also shape a career in family medicine, particularly rural family medicine.

I have written two short dissertations as to how I think we can best do this in North Dakota and I was pleasantly surprised that Dr. Joshua Wynne Dean, UND School of Medicine, and Dave Molmen, Chair of UND School of Medicine Health Sciences Advisory Council, share many of my ideas and, in fact, have been diligently working toward dedicating family medicine positions and residencies through UND.

I reference the UND Heath Care Workforce Initiative supported by the Legislature, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and the UND School of Medicine.

We are all in agreement that we need to recruit, train and retain family medicine doctors in North Dakota. There are a number of ways to do this and there are some differing ideas as to how to accomplish this objective.

From my perspective in Watford City, I would like to see government funding to oil-impacted areas in addition to the HWI and I would like to see more graduates from UND medical residencies come to smaller towns and cities.

It is my strong belief that with concerted effort and continuing ideas we can bring this to fruition.

We have a very knowledgeable and capable group of individuals working towards this end and I am quite humbled to be a small part of the process.

Thank you again for keeping the health care crisis front and center in people’s minds and hearts.”

Dr. Ramage is well-qualified to speak for North Dakota communities. He has been practicing family medicine in Watford City for 19 years and is obviously committed to attracting more students for rural medicine.

In a presentation to the Coalition Group for Rural Medicine, he noted the crisis for most of the 36 critical access hospitals that are forced to hire “excessively priced” temporary assistance to keep medical services functioning.

The cost of a single physician under these circumstances is between $1.2 million and $1.7 million annually and is obviously unsustainable. Hospitals will be forced to go broke unless realistic alternatives are developed.

“If we as a state, medical university and motivated health care providers can provide a solution to this crisis,” he said to the coalition, “we can save rural medicine in North Dakota.”

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email him at ndmatters@q.com.

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Lloyd Omdahl
Omdahl is former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher.
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