Aspiring doc’s old-school outlook on rural health
Jacob Thatcher, right, with his wife, Jaclyn, in Grand Teton National Park. Both Jacob and Jaclyn are passionate about rural health.
I have always enjoyed the classic “Andy Griffith Show.” In a time when many aspiring medical students choose “House MD” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” people are surprised by my choice. For me, it reminds me of my own ideals and aspirations. It depicts a bygone era of neighborly kindness and service where the sheriff is genuinely involved in his small community. I believe these values can be emulated as a physician in rural America.
My passion for rural health first took root on my family’s potato farm in southeastern Idaho. One of my role models was my great-grandpa, who said, “The best thing a man can put on his land is his shadow.” He taught me that regardless of which profession I chose, there is no substitute for passion and hard work. I saw this dedication from our own rural family physician, who was known to “drop by” to check on his patients. He cared deeply about people.
Following high school, I was called to serve on a volunteer mission for my church in southern Brazil. I developed a love for the Brazilian people. I have never worked harder nor sacrificed more, yet have never been happier. During these two years, I met many people who couldn’t afford basic necessities. This was a humbling experience. I returned from Brazil with a commitment to serve the underserved.
I then took a surgical assistant internship at Philippine General Hospital in Manila. Many patients had contracted diseases that have been virtually eradicated in the United States. Once again, I realized how vulnerable underserved populations are when they do not have access to health care.
I sought out opportunities where I could serve in the United States and worked as a medical assistant in rural Kenai, Alaska. I learned that similar disparities exist in rural America. I was able to treat Alaska Natives who would otherwise have been unable to receive quality health care.
A career in rural medicine fits my personal goals as a husband and father. My professional ambition is to be a modest, respected physician. As I pursue becoming a skillful clinician, an advocate for my profession and a committed educator, I am grateful for the opportunities to serve rural America.
It is hard to turn Andy Griffith’s famous whistle into reality, but I’m trying.
Jacob Thatcher is a second-year medical student at Pacific Northwest University and a 2017 NRHA Rural Health Fellow.