OTTUMWA — Health care students say the financial boost they received through local scholarships encourages them to give back in their future careers.
At Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation's annual scholarship recipient reception Thursday afternoon, 21 students pursuing careers in health care were awarded a total of $27,000 in scholarships. Since the scholarship program began in 2004, $246,000 have been awarded.
"We focus on specifically those fields of health careers that we have a shortage of in our community and surrounding communities," said Kelly Genners, ORLF's director of community leadership and grant-making.
Southeast Iowa has had a longstanding difficulty in recruiting and retaining health care professionals, she said.
"There are so many opportunities when you come out of school anymore, so they're recruited hard and they look at a lot of things," she said. "What kind of packages could they potentially get, where could they get their loans paid for, quality of life, where they want to raise their family. I think it's difficult with the low reimbursement rate with Medicare, Iowa is at the bottom, which makes it difficult right out of the gate. But we do have great physicians who want to come here, raise their families and they recognize the importance of small towns."
The students honored Thursday hail from several communities in southeast Iowa, and they're attending universities throughout the nation.
One student, Doug Thompson, drives every day to Des Moines from Ottumwa — where he lives with his wife and two kids — to attend Des Moines University's doctor of physical therapy program.
As a former college athlete himself (Thompson was a pitcher at Muscatine Community College and University of Sioux Falls), he understands the pain of an athletic injury.
"I had a lot of shoulder trouble, so I did PT myself as a patient," he said. "I enjoy helping people. Now I work with youngsters to teach them healthy throwing mechanics."
Any time students can receive financial assistance to go into post-secondary education, they should take advantage of it, he said.
"With the increase in tuition rates and the increase in interest on student loans, any time foundations or organizations give back, it makes us want to pay it forward to others," he said.
Dr. Ted Haas, a local OB-GYN, spoke to the students about his career in medicine.
"To see the next generation of health care givers is really tremendous, particularly those of you in physical therapy to keep us movers moving," he said.
In his third year of medical school, Haas was torn between family medicine and OB-GYN. After working rotations in both during his fourth year, he knew delivering babies was his path in life. When he started his residency at the University of Iowa in 1976, they were delivering eight to 10 babies per day. During his first weekend on-call in Ottumwa four years later, he delivered 13 babies in 36 hours.
Haas has now lived and worked in Ottumwa for 33 years and has delivered more than 7,000 babies.
"We get a real special opportunity because we get to take care of people and work with them when they're at their most vulnerable," he said.
Caitlin Hainley, who works as a lactation consultant at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines and is studying to be a midwife, originally graduated alongside her husband with English degrees. They moved to China from 2006-11, where she did a lot of humanitarian work with pregnant women. After returning to the U.S., she decided to become a midwife.
"I think that women should have more options in birth," she said. "And I think it's important that women take care of other women. I want to be part of creating a holistic model of care for women."
The scholarships range from $500 to $3,000, and they're awarded depending on how long a student is in school and how expensive tuition is.
"It's really eye-opening," Genners said of the cost of tuition. "Obviously if someone is going to be a pharmacist, $500 is not going to help a whole lot, but $3,000 will because they'll have a huge financial debt before they get out of school. Our scholarship committee focused on what are those occupations we need here? We want to support them and build a relationship with them. That's our best chance of recruitment. Their roots are here already, and they're aware of what's going on in the community."
— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to twitter.com/chelsealeedavis.