Oklahoma is known for its storms in the springtime, but a different sort of storm – a perfect health care storm – could be brewing. And rural Oklahoma may be at its eye.
According to Dr. Kayse M. Shrum, president and provost of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, places like Tahlequah and Cherokee County are facing a severe shortage of primary care physicians.
“The storm is a combination of the national physician shortage, an aging physician population where one in four rural Oklahoma physicians is more than 60 years old, and decreasing funding for physician residency training programs that historically attract physicians in a local geographical area,” said Shrum. “Experts believe the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, will likely elevate the problem to critical condition.”
To help spark interest in the medical field, Operation Orange, a day-long workshop for high school students in Northeast Oklahoma, was held at the Cherokee Nation Health Services Center on the corner of Choctaw and Water Tuesday.
Over 100 students attended, which is double the enrollment from last year’s workshop.
“We came last year,” said Shrum. “I was so surprised to see how many students we have this time. It’s more than twice what we had last year, which is encouraging.”
Connie Davis, executive director of CN Health Services, welcomed the group, who participated in a variety of hands-on training experiences throughout the day.
“The partnership we have with OSU is unbelievable,” said Davis. “A number of our local doctors left Tahlequah, graduated from OSU, and returned here to practice.”
Shrum said OSU’s mission is to provide premium care for rural residents of Oklahoma.
“Cherokee Nation shares that mission, and OSU is planning a branch campus of its medical school in Tahlequah in partnership with the Cherokee Nation,” said Shrum.
While speaking to the students, Shrum said that when she was in high school, her only goal was to play softball in college.
“Which I got to do,” said Shrum. “But my first year, I was bombarded with questions about what I would choose as a major.”
Shrum said neither of her parents had college degrees, and nobody in her family was a doctor at the time.
“I took a lot of science classes, because that’s what I loved,” said Shrum. “After [I took] a physiology class, the professor approached me and asked if I intended to go to medical school. He asked me to visit with a doctor in my hometown, and to visit a medical school.”
Shrum said she did both, and after feeling welcomed and receiving that initial encouragement from her professor, she chose medicine as a career.
“Which is why I’m here today,” said Shrum. “I want you to be excited about the possibility of medicine as a future, and I hope you have a great day.”
Students then broke into groups, and they visited five different stations providing hands-on training like CPR, intubation, learning about anatomy using real organs, and testing suturing skills.
At the first station, which taught CPR and proper chest compression technique, OSU medical students Sue Vonacek, Greg Bradley, Luken Emil and Taylor Craft acted out a chilling scenario using an infant dummy.
Emil rushed into the room with the “child,” along with Bradley, who was portraying the part of the emergency medical technician. Vonacek and Craft provided medical assistance, resuscitating the baby just in the nick of time.
They explained the procedure point by point, then divided the students into smaller groups to teach them how to properly administer chest compressions.
“The easiest way for me to remember the pace is to sing ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ while I do the compressions,” said Bradley. “Do you know that song?”
None of the students were fans of the movie “Saturday Night Fever,” so Bradley offered an alternative.
“What about ‘Another One Bites the Dust?’” he asked, and received laughs and affirmation from the group.
The teens practiced on the dummies, and those with CPR experience were asked to lead the group.
Anna Brotherton, Tahlequah High School senior, made the task look simple.
“I’m already certified in CPR,” said Brotherton.
In another room, students learned how to intubate – provide a breathing tube – for a patient. This exercise required they perform a series of tasks, all while avoiding breaking the patient’s teeth or filling the patient’s stomach with air. Each student was timed, and the results will be compared with those of others participating in Operation Orange workshops across the state.
Victoria Cash, high school student from Grove, performed the procedure without faltering, only to discover she’d filled her patient’s stomach, not lungs, with air.
“I like the camp; it’s been good so far,” said Cash. “I love anatomy.”
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To learn more about Operation Orange, contact Maghin Abernathy at 918-561-8277.