Top university officials hear rural health care concerns

U of I system leaders travel to Dixon’s KSB Hospital on Monday for first stop of annual state tour

Dr. Brian Didier speaks to University of Illinois leaders Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, at KSB Hospital in Dixon.

DIXON – Recruiting doctors to practice medicine in rural areas was the main focus of discussion during a University of Illinois system visit to KSB Hospital on Monday.

A leadership contingent led by Tim Killeen, president of the University of Illinois system in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, is traveling across the state over the next two weeks, exploring opportunities to work on behalf of state residents through a variety of existing and developing partnerships.

The northern leg of the tour began Monday, with the first stop at KSB Hospital in Dixon.

The hourlong discussion was heavily focused on how to get doctors to set up their practices in rural areas of the state.

Dr. Greg Reckamp, program director of the University of Illinois College of Medicine (Rockford) Rural Program, explained how the UIC COM Rockford’s Dixon Rural Training Track places residency students in a family medicine residency program. The hope is that upon completing their residency, some of those doctors will decide to set up their practice in a rural area.

The program has been in place since 2004.

“KSB noticed that it was very difficult to recruit doctors to come work in rural areas,” he said. “To try to fix that, we started a rural program in partnership with the University of Illinois in Rockford.”

Under the program, two medical school graduates are selected each year to train at KSB, with the goal being for them to go back into rural practice.

“There’s a shortage of rural physicians in general,” Reckamp said. “I think one of the problems with that is that most training takes place in big urban university settings, and so I think when people are thinking of what they’re going to do with their life after medical school, they don’t have a concept of rural areas. If they grew up in a rural area they might, but I think moving from a big urban hospital where you trained to a rural area is sometimes hard.”

Thirty have graduated from the program so far, with seven having worked at KSB and an additional eight working in Illinois. Overall 75% of the graduates work in rural medicine, he said. Among them are Dr. Emilee Bocker, a family medicine with obstetrics physician at KSB who finished her residency in 2014 as part of the rural medicine program and now has been at KSB for nine years.

Dr. Brian Didier, a third-year UIC COM Rockford medical resident, told the assembled group that he is planning to work at KSB after he completes his residency.

“I’ve had just an absolutely incredible time here,” Didier said. “I did not expect to enjoy residency this much. So I’m very thankful for that. Even so much that I’ve decided to stay on at KSB.”

Other topics discussed were the University of Illinois Extension’s role in health care and education, the need for broadband expansion across the state for the consistent delivery of telehealth services, and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals.

After its visit at KSB, the University of Illinois leadership team was headed to the Quad-Cities. On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the tour resumes at Elgin Community College and other Chicago-area stops.

The third day begins at Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago on Wednesday, Sept. 27, and includes an event at Malcolm X College.

A second segment in the southern portion of the state begins Monday, Oct. 3, with events at Makanda and Murphysboro. The following day includes meetings at Alton Wedge Innovation Center and Forbes Biological Field Station in Havana. The final day, Wednesday, Oct. 5, features stops at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria and a gathering in Cuba.

In a tour structured along the broad themes of education, health and sustainability, and economic development, the team is joining with legislators, community and industry partners, and leaders of other public higher education institutions to discuss topics that also include:

  • Workforce development, economic revitalization, broadband digital access and entrepreneurship
  • Opportunities for community college students to transfer to four-year universities and increased enrollments of underrepresented populations
  • Partnerships in innovation and support of the manufacturing sector
  • Applications of artificial intelligence and developments in automotive and aviation technologies
  • Management of waterways, including invasive species and waterfowl populations

This is the third year of the president’s statewide tour. The initial outreach focused on developing a deeper understanding of the challenges and the potential improvements that exist throughout the state. The second year’s tour served to extend existing partnerships and develop new ones.

This year, system leaders will continue the processes of listening, learning and recognizing ways in which ongoing efforts are producing results.

”Understandably, many people associate the U of I system with academic excellence and the phenomenal scholarly and research achievements originating at our three universities,” Killeen said. “As meaningful and beneficial as those accomplishments may be, we have the resources and the willpower to serve as a focal point in meeting unmet needs.

“The system’s future is inextricably intertwined with the future well-being of the state and its residents – proceeding within the framework of partnerships, new ones and ones that we’ve grown through the years. We have the vision, the range of expertise and the momentum to work with our communities to grow and thrive.”

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Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema is the editor of Sauk Valley Media.