There’s a doctor shortage in rural America. This is not news – just the opposite – it’s been going on for ages. Even old Doc Adams, the country doctor in “Gunsmoke,” was constantly overworked. In one episode, when he finally gets a vacation, he’s kidnapped by outlaws in need of his services. Present-day Missouri ain’t Dodge City, Kansas. But many rural doctors are still overstretched.
Although 40 percent of Missourians live in rural areas, only a quarter of primary care doctors practice there. In fact, primary care doctors are in short supply in 80 percent of the state, leaving many of Missouri’s poorest miles from the closest doctor.
McDonald County, in the far southwest corner of the state, is one of the counties with the lowest rates of primary care doctors in the state: one physician for every 11,000 residents. (Boone County, at the top of the rankings, has around 27 times more doctors per capita.)
In this Health & Wealth report, the story of one tiny town, and one country doctor. In 1979, residents rallied to recruit a young doctor just finishing medical school in Oklahoma. He would be the town’s first doctor in ten years, and he’d be their doctor for the next 30, and counting.