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Parkston taking advantage of health care programs

Part of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's visit to Parkston included a focus on health care, which he credited the city and Avera St. Benedict Hospital for taking every opportunity to recruit young medical professionals.

"Parkston is unique, I would say, because they have taken advantage of every one of those recruitment and programmatic incentives that either incentivize a professional to come here, or to give a professional or a student an experience here to see what's available in a community like Parkston," Daugaard told The Daily Republic on Wednesday. "They can see the advantages and hopefully develop some attachments and want to come back when they're done here."

Those range from creating "scrub camps" for high schoolers to show them what's available for health careers to connecting with local colleges like Mitchell's Dakota Wesleyan University and Yankton's Mount Marty College for nursing training and getting medical students at different stages to do rotations in Parkston while at the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.

Avera St. Benedict Health Center CEO Gale Walker said he's purposely made it a point to make Parkston a key location in getting students at different stages in their educations to learn what career options are out there, whether that's being a physician, working as a registered nurse or medical lab technician.

"It's so critical to get those students some sort of experience like that," Walker said. "We've purposely been at the forefront of that because that's how you recruit to small towns. You have to be out front and showing people what's out there."

Walker was honored prior to the community leader luncheon held at the hospital Wednesday for his 35 years of service to rural health care. Daugaard honored Walker's service and his commitment to rural health care by presenting him with a Black Hills gold pheasant pin.

Parkston has been one of 10 cities around the state to participate in the Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students Program, or REHPS. That's available to nursing practice, physician assistant, physician and pharmacy students to work in a hands on location for one month in a rural setting. The REHPS program is also in place in other area communities, including Platte, Wagner, Wessington Springs and Winner.

Parkston is also participating in the Frontier and Rural Medicine Program, or FARM. The program, which was profiled in the Aug. 16 edition of The Daily Republic, puts a third-year medical student in a community for nine months as they get their training.

Wednesday's Capital for a Day event in Parkston coincided with a regular meeting of the state's Primary Care Task Force Oversight committee, which is administered through the state Department of Health and meets on topics regarding primary care in South Dakota, including rural training and residency programs in the state. Parkston FARM Student Josh Doorn briefed the committee on his experience thus far, and said he thinks it has been a good experience. Though, he believes his colleagues may be skeptical because it is a new program.

"I'm sure as students come through the program, that will wear off," Doorn said.

"I think we're making some progress," Daugaard said of the state's efforts in general. "The thing is to always keep measuring ourselves against the competition and make sure that residencies in other states don't detract from what we're doing here in South Dakota."

During the task force's meeting, State Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, asked what the state should be doing to capitalize on the training that is going on in rural areas and make it pay off with full-time practice in small towns.

Jason Wickersham, who practices family medicine in Parkston, said the state's program to repay tuition costs for medical students who are willing to work in a rural area is a key. He benefitted from tuition repayment when he landed in Parkston after graduating from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and doing his residency.

"I was looking for a rural setting because that's what I was brought up in, but that tuition assistance really is an important carrot to have out there and is a great incentive to have," he said.