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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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One Voice

County Road Caretakers

By Courtney Welch '01

College of Medicine graduate student
Margot and Alonzo Byington ’58 Scholarship recipient

As a girl, I remember sitting in the stands at a softball game with my dad when we saw it: The ball flew right at a player’s head and laid her out flat on the turf. She wasn’t getting up. When I turned to my dad, he had already left his seat and was making his way toward her. I wasn’t surprised; he was the “town doc” after all. What surprised me was how calm he was. He barely jogged toward the injured player. “Why isn’t he running?” I thought. “Doesn’t he know how serious this is?”

Looking back, I understand why. When you’re a doctor responding to a crisis, your reaction drives the reactions of those around you. No doubt his mind was scrambling for details, assessing the situation. But he didn’t show it, because he knew the people of Yoakum, Texas, needed him to be cool and collected. As I watched him attend to the player, I knew that I also wanted to provide that essential need. I wanted to be just like him.

Being a small-town doctor means having a concrete, respected place in the community. My father was received with gratitude everywhere he went. If we ate at a local café, every customer wanted to shake his hand. If we attended a high school football game, those whose lives he touched in a positive way approached our family with warmth. I didn’t fully appreciate these moments at the time, but in hindsight, they speak to my enduring desire to follow in his footsteps.

The Rural Gap

My journey to becoming a doctor is non-traditional. In 2004, I had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from Texas A&M University and was ready to apply to medical school. Life had other plans. I took my MCAT in April, married my husband in May and was putting my application packet together when I found out I was pregnant in June.

I made a tough decision to put my dream on hold to raise my family. We moved from College Station to Shiner, Texas, where I took a job as a high school teacher and told myself I would go back to school when the time was right. Thirteen years later, I heard my calling and finally applied to medical schools.

What drove me back is the same reality that drives me today: Rural Texas needs doctors. Desperately. Texas has the largest rural population in the United States. One in five Texans live in rural areas, and yet Texas ranks 46th among states for number of rural physicians. Many Texans drive an hour or more to reach their closest primary care doctor. Rural communities are at the heart of what makes Texas special, but when it comes to access to quality health care, they’re being hung out to dry.

Imagine if the entire state of Arkansas didn’t have a psychiatrist. There would be cable news segments, legislative action and social media campaigns. After all, people need basic mental health practitioners. But consider this: The population of Arkansas is 3 million. The combined population of the 185 Texas counties without a psychiatrist is 3.1 million.
 

As much as I love Texas A&M, addressing this problem is the real reason I returned to College Station for medical school. From its inception, the Texas A&M College of Medicine has trained physicians specifically to work in the rural communities that need them most. I’m enrolled in a program called A&M Integrated Medicine, which focuses on developing enduring relationships with patients and providing personalized care.

One in five Texans live in rural areas, and yet Texas ranks 46th among U.S. states for number of rural physicians. 

This is where my passion lies: building trust and breaking down the hidden barriers that keep doctors from providing patients with the best care they can receive. Carrying on my father’s legacy means more than putting on a white coat and going through the motions. It means going into a community and being that person who people can rely on to care for them and their loved ones. It means giving all that I can for as many as I can reach. Sometimes, it means getting up from the stands and being fearless in front of the whole town.

I’ve witnessed a lifetime of service watching my father work. As I pursue my dream, I can only hope to be for my patients what he has been for an entire community.

To support Aggie medical students who wish to serve rural populations, the College of Medicine seeks endowed Dean’s Excellence Scholarships, which can be established with a $125,000 gift. To learn more, contact David Boggan '79 below.

Improving Rural Population Health 

Earlier this year, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center announced a new educational and clinical partnership with CHI St. Joseph Health. Although the two have worked together since 1997, this new partnership creates a co-branded network of care facilities throughout nine counties in Texas, including Brazos County. The network includes 16 primary care locations housing 47 providers.

Since Texas A&M doesn’t have its own teaching hospital, Aggie medical students will receive training at locations throughout the CHI St. Joseph Health system. Rural medicine will be a primary focus of the partnership, with aims to increase the number of physicians based in rural communities across the state. To better aid these communities, medical students will be deployed into settings beyond hospitals and clinics, making health care more accessible.

Contact:

David Boggan '79

Senior Director of Development of College of Medicine
Health Science Center