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TSET Board of Directors Deepened Commitment to Recruiting Physicians to Rural Oklahoma

The TSET Board of Directors has enhanced its commitment to recruiting physicians to rural areas in Oklahoma, as part of its mission to improve the health of all Oklahomans. By helping to ensure access to physicians, rural Oklahomans will be receiving the important preventive health screenings and treatment resources they need, and receiving them closer to home. 

Earlier this year, the TSET Board of Directors agreed to provide ongoing funding for 42 slots in the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program through the TSET grant to the Physician Manpower Training Commission. This change will allow for the ongoing recruitment of doctors and ensure there is no lag in enrolling doctors in the program. The ongoing slots will be refilled as doctors complete their four year commitments to the program.

Four years ago, the TSET Board of Directors made the initial grant to PMTC to fund a total of 42 physicians. The first group of doctors will complete their four years of service in January 2017, and this new commitment will allow PMTC to begin recruiting new physicians into the program.

Modeled after a similar program in Texas, which had been recruiting away Oklahoma-trained physicians for over a decade, the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program helps pay off up to $160,000 in medical school loans for doctors who are willing to practice in a rural or underserved area for up to four years.

Oklahoma has consistently ranked low in access to health care, with 64 of the state’s 77 counties are classified as areas with a shortage of primary medical care providers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration.

This program makes it attractive for Oklahomans to practice in rural areas and helps retain recent Oklahoma medical school graduates in the state. Most doctors graduate medical school with an average of $200,000 in student loans.

By 2026, 91 doctors will have participated in the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program for the first 14 years of the grant. It is estimated it will cost TSET about $700,000 annually to support the 42 slots when the medical loan repayment program reaches capacity.

“This would not have been possible without the grant from TSET,” said PMTC Executive Director Jim Bishop.

The Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program also leverages federal health care dollars to assist in providing access to preventative screenings and care in underserved parts of the state. Over the life of the grant, the program will leverage nearly $11 million in federal health care dollars, through a partnership with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

“Partnering to bring additional doctors into the program helps to improve the health of Oklahomans across the state, especially children and families living in rural or underserved areas,” said Jim Gebhart, TSET Board of Directors chairman. “We know physicians play an integral part in helping to ensure children develop healthy habits at a young age, and that parents understand the importance for families to eat better, move more and be tobacco free.

This is a way for TSET to continue to address our state’s health on the front end through prevention, delivering evidence-based preventive care to Oklahomans that have traditionally had very limited access to care. This program helps to address the cost drivers – tobacco use and obesity – that is burdening our already stressed health care system.”

Since 2013, doctors enrolled in the medical loan repayment program have completed more than 56,000 patient visits in medically underserved areas. The support for slots in the loan repayment program will also further PMTC’s goals of expanding the Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program, said Ted Haynes PMTC commission member. 

“This recent commitment, will help provide stability to the program, allowing us to increase efforts to place additional physicians in rural parts of our state,” Haynes said. “As a member of the PMTC Board of Directors, I am very proud of PMTC’s progress toward achieving the goals of the grant, and I am enthusiastic and encouraged about the future as PMTC works with all stakeholders to improve access to health care in rural Oklahoma.”

The Oklahoma Medical Loan Repayment Program was created by the state Legislature in 2011. The TSET Board of directors approved a grant in 2012. TSET also has a grant to Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and OSU Medical Authority to recruit practicing physicians to rural and medically underserved areas. TSET’s grant OSU grant will fund up to 118 osteopathic physician residents in six hospitals across the state, through a combination of TSET and matching federal funds via the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.