HUGO, Oklahoma — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK), the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), and the Oklahoma Physician Manpower Training Commission (PMTC) have partnered together to increase the availability of health care in rural areas of southeastern Oklahoma.
BCBSOK has donated $500,000 to the PMTC Physician Loan Repayment Program, which enhances medical care in rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma by administering incentive programs that encourage physician personnel to establish practice in rural and underserved areas.
“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to invest in our rural and tribal communities so Oklahomans have access to quality care, when and where they need it most,” said Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D., president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma. “We congratulate Dr. Tammy M. Tandberg-Willcox on being this year’s recent recipient and bringing accessible health care to the Hugo community. We look forward to working with her and seeing the long-term health impact in this community.”
Chief Medical Officer for the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA), Dr. Jason Hill, is a strong supporter of initiatives for rural health care. Dr. Hill states, “Developing innovative partnerships with private donors like BCBSOK has greatly increased the effectiveness of the PMTC mission of placing physicians in rural, underserved areas of Oklahoma. We here at CNHSA have benefitted from this generous partnership by being able to place physicians in small towns which have historically had difficulty attracting physicians.”
Starting a business like a medical practice in any location is a challenge, but in small economically depressed locations this challenge may be insurmountable for young physicians. The student loan repayment offered to these mostly new physicians is a game-changer and eases their financial strain. In Dr. Hill’s opinion “the student loan repayment program is the single most effective recruiting tool to attract new physicians to rural areas of our state.”
PMTC, as developed under the provisions of Oklahoma State Statutes, became fully functional as of November 1, 1975. For the last 45 years PMTC has worked to improve the balance of physician manpower distribution in the State of Oklahoma, both by type of practice and by geographic location. “This program provides a great opportunity for rural communities to bring much-needed primary care physicians to underserved areas,” said Janie Thompson, executive director for PMTC. “Access to local health care can truly impact the overall success of a patient’s quality of life.”
Dr. Tammy M. Tandberg-Willcox is a recent recipient of a PMTC grant and has established practice in Hugo, Oklahoma. Dr. Tandberg says the grant has done just what it is designed for in her case, “After finishing my residency with the Choctaw Nation Family Medicine Residency program, I decided to stay with Choctaw Nation and work at the Hugo clinic. Receiving the PMTC grant enabled me to stay in the area and practice family medicine, while at the same time easing the burden of my student loan. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and make a difference in my new community.”