KU School of Medicine–Wichita
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214
May 30, 2019
By Brian Whepley
John Dorsch, M.D., grew up on a farm outside Bird City in Cheyenne County, about as far north and west as one can go in Kansas. The town had one doctor and St. Francis, the county seat about 18 miles west, had four or five general practitioners.
"They'd take out your appendix and fix your hernia and take out your gall bladder and your tonsils and deliver babies and do everything," said Dorsch, director of rural programs at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
Bird City no longer has a doctor, nor does St. Francis or the entire county. For residents, care is provided locally by physician assistants or by doctors 40 miles away in Goodland or 55 miles away in Colby. Major procedures like the pacemaker installation Dorsch's 92-year-old father underwent require a trip to McCook, Nebraska, or Hays or Denver.
Dorsch has spent the last two decades working to address the shortage of rural physicians. With his retirement May 31, a KU Endowment fund he created will help continue that work, supporting medical students who think they'll venture into rural Kansas.
Before joining KU School of Medicine-Wichita in 1999, Dorsch taught 11 years in the family medicine residency at Wichita's St. Joseph Medical Center, now part of Ascension Via Christi. Before that, he spent a half-dozen years practicing in Hays. While there, he served as a preceptor, a physician-educator, for KU School of Medicine-Wichita medical students.
At KU School of Medicine-Wichita, he's placed fourth-year medical students in rural preceptorships across the state - and recruited a good many preceptors himself, especially as the number of students grew in the past decade. Students spend four weeks working alongside a doctor, seeing patients in the office emergency room, nursing homes and hospital.
"They help do some of the work of taking care of patients. Hopefully that helps them prepare for residency a little bit but also gives them the perspective of what life is like in a rural community," Dorsch said.
"I try to tailor the experience to what students want," he said, such as obstetrics, nursing home or inpatient care. "I have a pretty good idea of the personality of the preceptor, so I try to send students to a preceptor who's similar. If a student is a little bit edgy, I try to send them to an edgy preceptor. They tend to challenge each other a bit more. That's probably good for everybody."
"We always have a couple every year that decide, ‘Gee, this is very cool. Instead of becoming a surgeon or something else, I could go into family medicine and do rural medicine.' For some, these are real life-changing experiences."
During his two decades, preceptorships increased from about 25 a year to about 60.
"It seems like it's just been growing all the time, and that's been very rewarding. One nice thing is that most of the rural preceptors are old friends of mine. We should be really proud that most preceptors are Wichita alumni."
Other rural placements include an eight-week family medicine clerkship out in communities; the rural track, where third- or fourth-year medical students spend much of their time working in Pittsburg; and short elective sessions available to first- and second-year students.
Another is STORM, for Summer Training Option Rural Medicine, where interested students spend six weeks during the summer, after their first year, working with rural physicians and collecting research data. It's grown from about 20 students to more than 30.
Brynn Wright, a third-year, did a STORM session in Plainville with Lynn Fisher, M.D., who will replace Dorsch at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. "They really let you get a ton of hands-on. I was the first person to catch the baby," said Wright, who plans a rural practice. "It was good to see a different community. It felt like I had my own patients."
Dorsch's responsibilities included the third-year family medicine clerkship and fourth-year courses as well. His work brought accolades, earning him the Ruth Bohan Teaching Professor Award in 2010 and the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Classroom Teaching in 2012.
Jeremy Lickteig, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, had Dorsch as a small-group facilitator and has enjoyed his interactions via the Rural Medicine Interest Group.
"What resonates is that he's always a calming influence. He makes you feel like your ideas are heard and that your input matters," said Lickteig, who had a STORM experience in El Dorado in 2018.
Wright concurs, a view formed serving as Wichita president of the Rural Medicine Interest Group, which Dorsch co-directs along with Michael Kennedy, M.D., associate dean of rural programs in Kansas City.
"He's really good at letting your brain churn, and he's there to help you when you need it. I can see how that helped students in the clinic," said Wright, adding she understands his reputation as "everyone's favorite preceptor."
"His heart is still out in rural medicine," she said.
The interest group meets monthly across campuses via video feed and features physicians and other speakers. The Wichita branch hosted a procedure night this year, allowing students to practice vaginal deliveries, lumbar punctures and triage in a trauma case.
Lickteig was a board member and the group's social media chair in Wichita. He and other Wichita students went to the National Rural Health Association's policy institute in January in Washington, D.C., where they met the Kansas congressional delegation and Medicaid and Medicare officials. The trip was supported by the Dorsch Fund. Financially, it was "not something we would have been able to do on our own," Lickteig said.
Dorsch is pleased the fund has grown to the point that interest on the principal is close to supporting its primary goals for now: sponsoring trips like the one to Washington and providing lunches at interest group meetings.
"It's almost an endowed fund," he said. "I'm really kind of proud of that."
An emeritus professor as of June 1, he will help with lectures and workshops until Fisher - 2016 Kansas Academy of Family Physicians president and a "natural fit," Dorsch said - comes aboard. Dorsch is also going to serve as a student coach, meeting with students regularly to discuss academic progress and provide counsel.
He'll also help more on the family farm near Bird City, doing mowing and such.
"I always enjoyed that a lot," Dorsch said.
Managed by KU Endowment, this fund honors award-winning faculty member (and everyone's favorite preceptor) John Dorsch, M.D., professor of Family & Community Medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. Dr. Dorsch has spent the last two decades working to address the shortage of rural physicians. With his retirement, the fund he created will continue that work and support medical students. You can contribute by making a donation today.
Pictured above: Rick Kellerman, M.D.; John Dorsch, M.D.; and Scott Moser, M.D.