Health - Medical Stethoscope Symbols - iStock - Natali_Mis

North Dakota hopes new campaign beefs up rural health-care workforce

© iStock - Natali_Mis
Mike Moen

Click play to listen to this article. 

Audio file

(Prairie News Service) North Dakota lags behind other Midwestern states when it comes to having an adequate number of health-care physicians. State officials say a new campaign aims to change that. 

The Department of Health and Human Services is rolling out a new outreach initiative it hopes will resonate with emerging health professionals just entering the workforce. 

Kalee Werner, North Dakota Health and Human Services primary-care office director, said with shortage issues more pronounced in rural areas, it has to overcome some of the narratives surrounding the environment for providers in smaller towns.

"For example, that physician might be the only one practicing in that specific area so they might feel isolated," Werner said.

PROMO 64J1 Map - North Dakota State Map - iStock - dk_photos

© iStock - dk_photos

But she added rural clinics are often tied to larger health-care systems, and there is a level of support providers can lean on. Data from the University of North Dakota show the state has nearly 20 doctors per 10,000 residents. The Midwest average is 27. 

National research suggests states with abortion bans create deterrents for health professionals and medical students, but the department couldn't speak to any backlash from North Dakota's law, which is being challenged in court.

According to Werner, not having enough providers in rural communities can have a devastating effect on patients. 

"They might be traveling 45 minutes to an hour to get care, and in some of those more emergent situations, that can be a big deal," Werner added. 

Another complicating factor is the financial pressure facing health-care systems. Becker's Hospital Review ranks North Dakota near the middle of the pack when it comes to rural hospitals at the risk of closure. 

As for the campaign, partnering agencies will educate health professionals about career opportunities in underserved communities. They'll also get more information about existing student loan-repayment programs.