EKU Pre-Med Student Aspires to Serve Barbourville Community

Published on March 01, 2024

By Ethan Sirles

In an effort to combat the severe healthcare provider shortage in the Commonwealth, Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is seeking approval from the Kentucky General Assembly to pursue the establishment of an osteopathic medical program, bringing an affordable, public option for Kentuckians who aspire to become physicians and serve their communities. 

House Bill 407 passed the Kentucky House of Representatives 91-0 on February 15 and now awaits a vote by the Kentucky Senate. The bipartisan legislation is a crucial element in addressing the primary care physician shortage in the state. Today, only 17% of primary care physicians practice in rural areas. In addition, almost a third of Kentucky physicians are of retirement age, having practiced between 31-50+ years. Last year, the Commonwealth’s three medical schools received 13,416 applications and enrolled 510 students. 

Lillian Jones, an EKU pre-med student from Barbourville, said a medical school closer to home would not only be convenient but would also help prepare her and other students for the unique challenges facing healthcare workers in the region. After completing her education, Jones’ hope is to return to Barbourville to work, because she wants to serve the people of her community. 

“I love the idea of giving comfort to familiar faces,” she said. “Medicine is a calling. Having had medical scares of my own, it really made me consider going into medicine because you are able to comfort someone when they are in their most vulnerable state. It would be a challenging but greatly rewarding career.” 

Jones chose to attend EKU for her undergraduate studies because of the reputation of its science programs and the scholarships that were offered. If the College of Osteopathic Medicine were an option, she said she would consider staying at EKU for the rest of her education. In addition to allowing her to be close to family, Jones sees the potential impact the program could have for making medical education and healthcare for rural communities more accessible. 

“The idea of EKU having a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program is one that was born out of the need for us to have more primary care physicians in Kentucky,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “This is important because it’s personal. Many Kentucky students dream of becoming doctors, but they never have the opportunity to attend medical school. Our communities, our neighbors, our friends and our families deserve to have a qualified physician who is there to care for them when they’re in their time of need. Being part of bringing those physicians who are Kentuckians back to our Kentucky communities to serve our neighbors and friends—there could be no higher calling.”

Students like Jones believe a College of Osteopathic Medicine at EKU would encourage more students to attend medical school, leading to more doctors practicing in Kentucky.