Couple supports rural medicine with $2 million gift to KU

Published: Jul. 11, 2020 at 5:23 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - A couple’s $2 million gift will support KU’s program in rural medicine.

The University of Kansas says Harold Ehrlich grew up on a farm outside Marion, where there was only one doctor in the area, and he did everything, often for the price of a few chickens and some eggs.

While bartering to pay for doctor visits is no longer the norm, it is still often one doctor who does everything in a rural setting.

KU says recognizing the importance of rural doctors in small farming communities, Harold and his wife, Fern, recently made a $2 million gift commitment to benefit the Summer Training Option in Rural Medicine (STORM) program at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

According to the University, STORM places students with volunteer primary care physician preceptors in rural sites across Kansas for 7-weeks of active clinical training and research. The school says the gift from the Ehrlichs, who now live in Ocala, Florida, will support the program in perpetuity and provide stipends to program participants.

The Ehlrichs say they hope the experience will lead to more students choosing rural primary care medicine after graduation.

KU says the STORM program began in 1992 with two students, now 30 - 35 students sign up for the elective each year. Michael Kennedy, the McCann Professor for Rural Health and associate dean for rural health education at the KU Medical Center says 762 students have participated in the program and 91 are now doctors serving rural areas.

According to the University, both students and communities benefit. Students experience all aspects of care including helping to deliver babies, scrubbing into surgeries and caring for trauma victims. The school says, more importantly, they are filling a crucial void.

KU says in 2017, a state task force found 161 primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas in Kansas. Of Kansas’ 105 counties, 92 are considered partially or wholly underserved, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Kennedy says he hopes the STORM program will grow to include more students and serve as a centerpiece for rural training at the KU School of Medicine.

“The Ehrlichs’ contribution will guarantee this extraordinary learning experience for many more aspiring physicians,” he said. “It also will enrich the work lives of rural doctors who find student interaction an extremely rewarding part of their practice.”

The Ehrlichs say their personal experiences with rural medicine and its importance inspired the decision to make the gift.

“If I had a billion dollars, anyone living in rural areas would have readily available, prompt and affordable medical services,” Harold Ehrlich said.

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