Caring for Alpena

Local medical student joins push to train doctors to treat their home towns

Courtesy Photo Seen in this photo provided by MidMichigan Health are Anna Kanarr, left, and Dr. Christy Werth. Kanarr is a Central Michigan University medical student who is training in Alpena and hopes to return to her home town to work.

By JORDAN SPENCE

News Staff Writer

ALPENA — It wasn’t a hard decision for medical student Anna Kanarr to come back to town.

Kanarr is now in her third year of medical school and is in the middle of her six-month clerkship with Dr. Christy Werth at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena.

“I know I wanted to come back to the area,” she said. “After living in other areas, I really like Alpena. I think it’s a good area to grow up, to raise families and to live. I feel like the area has a lot to offer. I’d like to be able to give back to the area. I’d like to be able to give back in providing good healthcare.”

Many rural communities, including Alpena, often struggle to attract physicians, which is why local health officials said programs like the one Kanarr is participating in are important.

Right now, she attends medical school at Central Michigan University after she received her Bachelor of Science in neuroscience from the University of Michigan.

“CMU is unique in that part of our mission is to provide medicine in rural and underserved areas,” she said. “We have a six-month clerkship in these rural and underserved areas and I’m doing that clerkship now. I’m mainly working in family medicine, practicing there and working, learning more about how to treat and diagnose different conditions. I’m also in the operating and emergency room twice a month to get a better feel of those fields.”

When not in her clerkship, Kanarr does telecommuting to finish bookwork associated with her classes.

MidMichigan Health Regional Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Richard Bates said students do a residency after medical school which typically lasts three to eight years but can be longer, depending on the student’s speciality.

“It is a significant time investment before someone hits the door here and starts independently seeing patients,” Bates said.

He added that, if a hospital can attract medical students back to the community they grew up in at some point in the student’s training, they will often return to permanently work there.

A 2015 study by the Citizens Research Council titled “Where are the Primary Care Doctors?” found that “physicians born in a rural location are 2.4 times more likely to practice in a rural area. Physicians born in rural areas were twice as likely to practice family medicine and their odds of choosing primary care were 50 percent higher than non-rural born students.”

“There’s a natural draw to want to come back to contribute, to live, to raise a family,” Bates said. “So for us to be able to engage those students even while they’re in high school is important. Anna was in a high school program that we continue now, where we maintain contact. We provide opportunities for shadowing, continue to be connected with students and offer them opportunities with either CMU or MSU where they come back for some part of their medical training.”

He said the hospital is invested in their training, invested in them coming back.

“We know they’re going to stay,” Bates said. “One of the big things for recruitment is not just getting someone to come here, it’s getting someone to stay here. If someone like Anna comes back after training, odds of her leaving are very small.”

Recruitment of students from the area also helps build trust between physician and patient.

“For someone who’s grown up here, that’s natural and comfortable,” Bates said. “Which adds to the patients’ trust. So you know the challenges in the healthcare based on the issues in the town and the area. A big part of healthcare is developing that trust.”

Kanarr said she hopes to establish a good connection with her patients.

“I think that’s a big part; having the empathy and compassion with the patients, being involved in the community in other ways can help to establish connections with patients,” she said.

Kanarr has been grateful for the opportunity to practice in Alpena and she hopes her future in medicine is here.

“I’m learning a lot at the family practice about providing good healthcare,” she said. “It’s frustrating, having a shortage of primary-care physicians. I noticed many of the patients need to drive long distances. I hope to address that in some way when I’m done with my training.”

Jordan Spence can be reached at jspence@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5687.