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Tuned-in: The modern country doctor

Image courtesy of Kent State University Press

A new book examines diversity and technology in rural medicine

Stuck in Phoenix following a professional conference in August 2005, Shailendra Prasad, M.D., M.P.H., watched the news in horror as Hurricane Katrina rolled into his Mississippi hometown.

“Our flights home were canceled. Then we learned that our neighborhood was under mandatory evacuation,” he recalls. “Our county, Pearl River, and our city, Picayune, were orange on the weather map. The Internet news pages said nothing more. I could not eat. I phoned my dozen sickest patients.” None answered.

Anxious to do something, Prasad turned to the Internet and started a blog in an attempt to connect with his patients. Within hours he had more than 30 posts — people from his town who were searching for their children, parents, pets, and other survivors of the hurricane.

Now an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Prasad spoke about his experience at a recent reading from The Country Doctor Revisited: A Twenty-First Century Reader. The book is a collection of essays, poems, and short stories about rural health compiled by his colleague Therese Zink, M.D., M.P.H.

Zink, associate director of the Medical School’s Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP), says the merging of cultural diversity, new technology, and medical care in Prasad’s story captures what it means to be a modern country doctor.

That’s the theme of her book, which features stories by people working in rural health care throughout the United States and includes contributions from several Medical School alumni.

A modern rural doctor herself, Zink sees patients in Zumbrota, Minnesota, where she lives on a farm with a myriad of animals when she is not teaching at the University. She maintains a website and a Facebook page for her book and has YouTube videos in the works connected to it.

Zink says the stories in her book highlight how new medical technology and the Internet are playing increasing roles in rural medical care. “What I really wanted to show was 21st-century medicine and technology.”

The stereotypical portrayal of the country doctor — as an older white man making house calls with his black leather bag — is not the reality, says Zink. Besides new technologies, rural medicine now involves doctors and patients from more diverse backgrounds.

Says Zink: “This book is designed to educate people and policymakers about rural health and to encourage students to explore rural practice.”

By Robyn White, associate director of Editorial Services, Minnesota Medical Foundation

Visit to learn more about The Country Doctor Revisited, and watch for Zink’s new compilation of stories and poems by Minnesota medical students, which will be published later this spring.

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