Rural hospital hires young doctor as seasoned physicians near retirement

RAW - Kyle McMinnville Gets Their Doctor Dan B_frame_23746.jpeg
Posted at 9:01 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 12:35:30-04

MCMINNVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A rural hospital with physicians nearing retirement hired a younger doctor to try to secure the future of healthcare in the community.

Ascension St. Thomas River Park Hospital recently hired a new general surgeon. Dr. Robert Christenson just moved to McMinnville from New York City with his wife, Heather, and two boys.

The hospital had been looking for a new physician for months and had a goal of hiring younger to maintain healthcare for years to come.

"In the medical community, we are all very much aware that rural health is struggling. There's a lot of demand in that aspect for primary care as well as specialty," said Christenson.

Though the culture around McMinnville is very different from New York City, Dr. Christenson said the change of pace is welcome.

"It's not hard for us to live here. It's not like I have to give up this to work in a small community. That wasn't ever something that went through our minds," he said.

But doctors like Christenson are rare. Rural areas have difficulty holding onto younger doctors who are more apt to choose city life.

The state even created a fund for universities to create residency programs outside of the big cities. Adding on predicted doctor shortages over the next 30 years, and the situation could get worse for small hospitals.

Dr. Christenson's wife said the slowed pace was actually a draw for them as a young family.

"We wanted to be somewhere where they would support him having a family and be able to develop outside of the hospital and outside of medicine," she said. "We always felt like that makes a better doctor. You have a good home life and a good balance. You could be a great surgeon but if you don't have anything outside of that then your life is just unbalanced."