Bailey Bucher: Combating rural health disparities
Bailey Bucher’s schedule is a hectic one. She lives in Ipava, Illinois with her husband and two small children. She works part-time at OSF Saint Francis Medical Group and goes to school at Illinois State University where she’s getting her MSN through the Family Nurse Practitioner sequence. Some weeks, Bailey has to make multiple trips to both Peoria, 60 miles from her home and Normal, 85 miles from her home. When we spoke with her, Bailey was having to spend an especially long time on travel.
“This is a big week for me as far as trying to balance home, life, mom, wife, nurse, student.”
Despite the strain that the travel puts on her, Bailey seems adamant about living in Ipava and providing a certain kind of lifestyle for her children.
“Both my husband and I grew up in Fulton County. We moved back to Ipava after living in the Peoria area for about seven years. We will most likely stay to give the kids the same kind of upbringing and the same opportunities that we had: to be in the country, living close to both sets of grandparents, endless opportunities for outdoor fun, and maybe some trouble! I think it gave both me and Aaron [her husband] a little better perspective on what life is like.”
Problems in Rural Areas
While rural life is sometimes romanticized, Bailey admits that it isn’t all good.
“It’s not just Peoria, it’s not just Chicago. There are poverty and health care disadvantages everywhere. You don’t have to go very far to find somebody that needs some extra help,” she said.
Along with poverty, Bailey also pointed out some of the challenges involved with modern health care in rural communities.
“There’s a lack of transportation, and people can’t always get to health care centers,” she said. “If there’s a patient in a primary care setting that needs a specialist, that person may have to drive an hour or an hour and a half to see them. And that’s huge for someone that works Monday through Friday, for someone that doesn’t have a vehicle or someone that’s on a tight budget.”
Barriers to Community Health
According to Rural Health Information Hub, there are many obstacles that prevent rural communities from accessing quality health care. While lack of transportation plays a huge part, other factors also contribute. Social stigma and privacy issues can cause residents to be concerned about seeking help for issues that are perceived as taboo, like mental health, substance abuse, and sexual health. A lack of insurance resulting from poverty in rural areas makes it difficult for people to get the care that they need. Poor health literacy is also a problem; lower educational levels may contribute to a lack of understanding about health care.
Working Against Health Disparities
Despite the many roadblocks that exist for rural health, Bailey is determined to make a difference not just in health care, but in her community.
“If we’re going to live in a community and be an active part of the community, I think that it’s important to try and work close to that community. My ultimate goal is to serve the communities around where I live. I believe that taking care of the people that you know, like neighbors, friends, family members or friends, makes you more aware of and accountable for the work you do.”
Yet another barrier to rural health is the poor reputation that some rural health care systems have, resulting in prospective patients avoiding it. However, this is one criticism that Bailey disagrees with.
“It’s discouraging to hear the things that people say about smaller community health care systems,” she says. “Yes, you’ll hear negative stories about them, but even the larger and well-known health care systems also have negative stories and outcomes. It’s important to remember that, everyone, including physicians, nurse practitioners, and nurses are human—there are bound to be instances in which the end result is not what was hoped for or expected.”
Even so, Bailey recognizes that she’ll need to fight against these negative stereotypes and that the degree she is working towards at Illinois State is the first step in doing so.
MCN Combats Rural Health Problems
With one of her goals being the improvement of health care accessibility in her rural community, it is no wonder that Bailey selected Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN). Bailey is working towards her MSN through the Family Nurse Practitioner sequence, which is a part-time program that offers a mix of online and on-campus education. By focusing on preventative measures and the diagnosis and management of commonly occurring health conditions, the degree prepares nurses for a wide range of Nurse Practitioner jobs.
The FNP track is also very dedicated to training nurses who will serve rural and underserved communities. So dedicated, in fact, that Mennonite College of Nursing was recently awarded a prestigious grant by the Bureau of Health Workforce in the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Advanced Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) grant will provide $1.4 million over the next two years to students in the FNP sequence to practice primary care in rural and underserved locations. Elizabeth Kosuth, who helps with the management of the ANEW grant, talked about the traineeships that the grant provides educational and living expenses for:
“These traineeships not only provide funding for students who might not otherwise have access to graduate education but also allows graduates to choose employment with facilities—like those in rural and underserved areas—that do not typically offer post-graduation tuition reimbursement,” Kosuth said. “Graduates who are interested in serving in these areas but did not have financial assistance may feel compelled to work where this reimbursement is offered instead of pursuing their passion.”
In addition, students who are funded by the grant are ensured a stimulating experience in an underserved area.
“Each student receiving funding is placed in at least one three-month immersive clinical experience in a rural or underserved clinic. We are also working on developing simulation experiences that integrate experience with the health issues found in these areas.”
Helping Students Make a Difference
Overall, Bailey is glad that she made the choice to enter MCN’s program and believes that it will contribute to her future success.
“I have gotten used to the drive! The in-class experiences with faculty and classmates have been and will continue to be invaluable. Illinois State’s program has a great reputation in preparing NP students to enter the workforce with confidence. My hope is that this reputation will give me an edge in gaining employment in the rural setting; ultimately giving more patients access to quality health care close to home,” she said.
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