The phrase “we are the University of Kentucky for Kentucky” is one that resonates across the entire UK campus. Because of his belief in this mission, physician assistant studies graduate Tyson Gross has dedicated his career to delivering care to some of the most vulnerable and underserved populations in the state of Kentucky.
There are a plethora of obstacles preventing rural Kentuckians from receiving adequate medical care. For many, there simply isn’t enough direct access to primary care providers (PCPs), who are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of patients they are responsible for. Additionally, these PCPs are usually at the end of a long drive. Other healthcare services that are more specialized like adult daycare, home assistance, dieticians, etc., may be farther away and even less accessible.
This gap is especially felt in rural Kentucky, where adequate healthcare is short in supply and often at the end of a long drive. “According to Health Resources and Services Administration Database, as of March 2019, there are 148 primary care, 108 dental, and 88 mental health healthcare facilities in federally designated healthcare provider shortage areas in Kentucky where there is an acute need but not enough healthcare providers.
It's these issues that inspired PAS alumnus Tyson Gross to move back to his hometown and practice in rural Kentucky upon his graduation from UK. Gross was raised in the heart of eastern Kentucky and is well acquainted with the everyday healthcare obstacles facing underserved regions.
“Staying close to home while attending an accredited and excellent program such as the UK PAS program was an easy choice,” he said. “CHS encourages graduates from rural areas to return home and become active health care providers and positive role models for their communities.”
Gross currently provides primary care services in Beattyville (Lee County) and emergency room services at his local hospital in Jackson (Breathitt County). He now works to alleviate the same issues he watched many of his hometown population struggle against. “Health education is a huge part of what I do,” he said. “Being active and interacting in the community events and sponsoring local community projects is something I prioritize at our clinic.”
According to Gross, opiate addiction is by far the biggest health concern in eastern Kentucky. “Every single family is negatively impacted by this epidemic,” he said. “To help make a positive impact in our community, our rural health clinic provides primary care, an addiction recovery program, and on-site counseling and access to resources that can help guide the person back into a positive and productive quality of life.”
Meeting the demand of an underserved area is both challenging and rewarding,” he
continued. “To hold people accountable, to be available, and have sympathy while simultaneously treating a population struggling with a low employment rate, low socioeconomic status, and a lower than average educational level brings its own specific set of challenges.
Educating and guiding patients in a beneficial direction and being an example of how education, along with hard work, can have a positive impact on the community is a great reward. Every day I am blessed to become a positive part of someone’s life.”
While rural health practitioners have to work hard in order to enact change in locations with less resources and access, healthcare professionals like Gross can be sure of the difference they are making for rural Kentuckians.
“My advice to any provider in a rural setting is to just be available, have patience and keep it simple,” he said. “Taking walk-ins, educating when the opportunity presents itself, having empathy and high realistic standards while providing quality care are ways to meet the challenge of an underserved area.”