St. Luke’s addresses rural doctor shortages with residency program

Dr. Daniel Plavin is one such physician. A newly minted doctor with local ties, he has joined the rural family medicine training track at St. Luke’s Miners Campus in Coaldale. Plavin is committed to helping Pennsylvania’s coal country access quality medical care.

The 25-year-old lives in Lake Harmony and is an EMT and firefighter for the Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Co. No. 2. He chose the rural residency program because it will allow him to be close to his family and stay involved in the community, which he said is key to understanding and helping patients.

“I grew up in the area,” Plavin said, “and saw firsthand the struggles of not having access to health care, of having to travel an hour to get any access. Rural areas need medical attention.”

Dr. Thomas McGinley, director of the St. Luke’s rural residency program, believes physicians like Plavin can make a difference for the coal country.

“Residents with local ties are more likely to settle where they train,” he said. “The goal is to develop a new generation to serve the doctor shortages.”

St. Luke’s Miners Campus’ is one 93 family medicine residency programs in the rural United States and one of just 34 nationwide, and the only one in Pennsylvania, that is accredited as an integrated rural training tracks, meaning that residents spend at least half their time in a rural locale.

An integrated rural training track has residents train greater than 50 percent of the time in a rural place, while remaining in collaboration with an urban residency

The three-year family medicine rural training track is in its second year at St. Luke’s. Two residents were accepted this year. The residents spend three months in the first year at St. Luke’s Hometown Rural Health Center in Tamaqua, and nine months there in both the second and third years.

“I have seen the strong impact access to medical care has on a community,” Plavin said.

Alexandra Rebuck of Danville was also accepted into the St. Luke’s rural residency program for 2019. Rebuck will graduate from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in May.

Like Plavin, Rebuck grew up in a rural area with limited access to health care.

“I feel indebted to the community I grew up in,” she said of her choice to follow the rural residency track. “I just want to give back.”

Plavin first became familiar with St. Luke’s while a senior at Jim Thorpe High Area School when he was part of the St. Luke’s Future Physicians Program. “St. Luke’s started the program right around when I was starting high school,” he said, “and I was drawn to it.”

The experience led him to American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, St. Maarten after graduating from Binghamton University State University of New York with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. St. Luke’s Family Medicine Rural Training Track was his first choice for a residency. He will complete his residency in 2022.

Plavin’s firsthand experience growing up in coal country supports national findings that rural health care is not easy to find. According to a 2012 National Rural Health Association report, residents in rural communities generally have fewer physicians and health services available. Rural Americans are also more likely to report poor health, to be less well insured, and to suffer from chronic disease and obesity.

St. Luke’s Hometown Rural Health Center in Tamaqua is one of several federally designated rural health centers operated by St. Luke’s in coal country. Others are located in Nesquehoning and Ringtown. A fourth clinic that recently opened in Lansford is awaiting federal designation. These special clinics accept private insurances, medical assistance, Medicare and patients who are self-pay.

Plavin is aware that practicing family medicine in a rural area may not be as financially lucrative as “big city” specialties but he has no doubts.

“I want to make an impact and the coal region needs help,” he said. “I went to medical school not for financial interests but truly to help people. Rural medicine is an area where I can really make a difference.”

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