A new resident physician program in the Flathead highlights a cooperative push to train more physicians in western Montana, and keep them here when they're finished.
Montana ranks dead last in the country for training resident physicians. Officials want to change that so more Montanans, especially those in rural areas, have better access to health care.
"It's just something I always knew I wanted to get into," said resident Physician Kevin Kropp.
Kropp grew up in Columbia Falls and is one of three resident physicians participating in the Kalispell Residency Program at Flathead Community Health Center.
"I wanted to help people, and being in that doctor role is really satisfying for me," Kropp said.
After four years of undergraduate and four years of medical school, Kropp is now participating in a 3-year hands-on program that doctors must go through, called a residency program.
The program is led by Dr. Justin Buls. Buls believes it's a critical part to improving rural health care in Montana.
"Statistically it shows that 70 percent of graduates end up practicing in the states they graduated in. And our program, specifically here in Kalispell, is designed to help train residents to be comfortable to go out into rural practices and be a physician for that town," said Buls.
Kropp and the others are only two weeks into the program. But for Kropp, it's already a dream come true.
"The welcome that we've got from the community so far has been overwhelming. They've definitely put a lot of work into the program so far, and I think it's going to keep getting better," Kropp said.
"I'm excited. They're a great group of people and they are extremely intelligent. They're self-motivated. They seek out education and they're going to be great," said Buls.
Buls also said that there are a large number of doctors in the Flathead around the age of 60 to 65 that are looking towards retirement in the near future, so training residents in the Flathead will allow an easy transition for them to take over practices.