Merced County’s doctor shortage is well known.
It’s also widely known that there isn’t a quick fix to the issue that health officials say may be contributing local residents dying at higher rates of preventable diseases and illnesses.
Some area health officials believe teaching area students about health disparities in the Valley could not only improve community health it may also eventually attract more doctors to the area.
In Los Banos, there is one hospital, one rural health clinic and a couple physician offices to take care of thousands of people. That was part of the message Doug Archer, administrator for Memorial Hospital in Los Banos, gave to 31 fourth graders on National Rural Health Day. Living in rural areas, like Los Banos and the rest of Merced County, means the population is smaller and are services are limited.
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"So that's why we're here and that's why this clinic’s here and that's why our hospitals here, to provide that immediate general care so that you're not bouncing down the road for 30 (or) 45 minutes or an hour to go get care for some of the basic things that you need," Archer told them.
Making sure young students learn about the importance of health has the potential to impact the overall health of a community, Archer told the Sun-Star in an interview. There are high rates of diabetes and obesity in Los Banos, he said, which can be managed with lifestyle changes, and educating kids on these topics early on can teach them to pick healthy choices.
Diseases that are leading killers in Merced County, like heart disease, diabetes and stroke, are all seen as preventable with lifestyle changes, like exercise and healthy eating, according to the Merced County 2016 Community Health Assessment.
When kids learn about healthy choices, those lessons will, more likely than not, get back to their parents, Archer said. If pressure to exercise and eat healthier is coming from the kids, he said, it could reduce the number of medical services people will need in the future.
Students also start to see the different professions they can get into, said Andrea Clarke, the students’ fourth-grade teacher, and it's not just doctors and nurses, but hospital administrators, receptionists or radiologists.
"It's important for them to see the possibility of what they can become," Clarke said. What they learn during this field trip will stick with them, she said.
All of Merced County is considered a health professional shortage area, according to the health assessment, with only 45.4 physicians per 100,000 residents.
Health and elected officials in Merced County have said programs that help put local high school students on a path leading to medical school can eventually bring more doctors to the area.
Delhi Unified High School offers a four-year program medical program, Delhi Medical Academy of Sciences, and can go into nursing or general medical training. Students in the program have expressed their willingness to go into the medical field with the intention of coming to the Central Valley to practice because of the need.
At the end of the field trip, when Clarke asked her students who wanted to go into the medical field when they grow up, at least a dozen hands were raised.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21