Garden City woman returns home to fight doctor shortage

Gerber says recruiting doctors is a community effort.

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – While southwest Kansas continues to struggle with a doctor shortage, rural communities also deal with brain drains, where young, college educated professionals leave the area for bigger cities.

At least one young Garden City woman who returned home to help fix both of those issues.

“There are people that are out here that can’t and won’t drive three and four hours to get care, so we want to bring those specialists back to the area,” said Chelsea Gerber. She works at St. Catherine Hospital as a recruiter.

“We are servicing people from right over the Colorado border, down into Oklahoma, up into Nebraska, and really this entire southwest region,” said Gerber.

It’s not easy convincing qualified doctors to move across the country to a small town.

“In more metropolitan areas,” she said, “you don’t really have to sell the community or show people the community. And so my first conversation with these physicians on the phone is hey, what are you looking for in a community?”

She works to personalize visits for each doctor she’s trying to recruit, showing off what the region has to offer.

That helped her recruit more than 20 medical professionals, like surgeon Robert Morren, who came to Garden from Michigan four months ago.

“By coming here and meeting those people and seeing what they had,” said Morren, “that it was a beautiful city and plenty of stuff to do and that made the decision easier.”

Gerber knows the town well. She was born and raised in Garden, a city her ancestors helped found, but she had never planned to return.

“I never thought I was going to come back,” she said. “I went off to college at K-State, lived in Kansas City, loved it.”

Besides being able to help her home town thrive, she says it’s a wise career move other young professionals might want to consider.

“When you’re in a metropolitan area, you’re kind of fighting and competing,” she said. “Here, you’re able to really thrive, and you’re surrounded by leaders and people that push you to get to the position that you want to, and you get there a lot faster.”

Gerber says that for all the work she does herself, recruiting in a small town like Garden is a community effort.

The region needs seven more primary care physicians, though one is coming to the area next summer.

Each doctor can see 20-25 patients per day, which is more than 6,000 each year. Multiply that by 7, and southwest Kansas can serve almost 44,000 more patients per year.