I've written before about the unique challenges and opportunities of practicing medicine in much of my sparsely populated home state, Montana. That's why I was excited to read in the Association of Health Care Journalists' blog, Covering Health, that University of Montana journalism student Amy Fox chose to write about the Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains, Montana, as part of the program's Montana Town Project. The hospital qualifies for "frontier medicine" status because it has only 16 beds. But Fox's interviews with hospital staff, including Donald Damschen, MD, the hospital's general surgeon, make it clear that it's far from primitive:
Dr. Damschen says that often, people feel that frontier medicine is often thought of as a lesser practice, as compared to urban medicine. It does not take a person long to understand that, in fact, the opposite is true. Physicians and nurses alike are required to have skills that excel far outside the reaches of what is normal in large hospital settings.
One of the hospital's largest challenges, according to Fox, is recruitment. It's often difficult to find jobs for spouses of potential staff members in the surrounding area. (The population of Plains is just over 1,100 people.) And, of course, there are other challenges of living in a small town, says human resources director Barry Fowler:
The great thing about working in a small community like this is that everyone knows your business. The tough thing about working in a small community like this, is that everyone knows your business. People have to be prepared for the closeness of a small community.
I had to laugh. That one I can vouch for personally.
Previously: Newspaper series examines rural health-care challenges, A look at frontier medicine in Montana and Life-and medical care-in a northern town
Photo by MRL 390