|Anpo (center) and David Charging Thunder flanked by their children Katyn, Quanah, Douglas, Gaberial, Joey, and Allyssa. Charging Thunder will be doing her residency at Omaha, Neb. and eventually plans to return to Gordon or the Nebraska panhandle to work as a physician.
OMAHA, NEB. - Anpo Charging Thunder's passion to care for people as a physician led her to the University of Nebraska Medical Center Rural Health Opportunities Program. The mother of six, she had five children before she even entered medical school.
UNMC is a national leader in rural programs to help alleviate the rural health shortage. Fifteen years ago it founded RHOP, a collaboration between Chadron State College, Wayne State College and UNMC.
Students applying for RHOP are considered on three criteria: their academic potential, residency in a rural Nebraska community and their commitment to practice in a rural community upon graduation.
Those students accepted are pre-admitted to the UNMC College of Medicine. Charging Thunder, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, heard about the RHOP from her mother when she was a senior in high school. She enrolled at Chadron State College in the fall of 2000, eight years after she dropped out of high school.
"I had good grades, but I was going to have to repeat a year due to absences, she said. She received her GED and began tutoring at Gordon High School in Nebraska. Four years later she became a certified nurse assistant at Gordon Memorial Hospital where she worked at the desk and as an obstetrics technician.
To pursue her undergraduate degree, Charging Thunder drove 100 miles to and from school Monday through Friday.
During this time she also continued at the hospital by working two to three evenings a week. It was during the dead hours when Charging Thunder was able to study.
"It took me eight years to get to this point," Charging Thunder said. She had a full schedule with her family and school and kept it balanced with support from her family and her husband.
She said she seen first hand when she worked at the Gordon hospital on the health of people. "I felt there could be improvements and if I entered the health care field I can make a difference," she said. After this program I plan to go back to home, we don't' have a lot of family on this side of the state, Gordon or somewhere in the Nebraska panhandle.
Her encouraging words to students who want to be doctors are, "No matter what happens in your lifetime, keep their eye on the ball, even though you may get thrown some curved balls, keep your focus, eventually it will work out," she said.
One of her visions is to have a traveling clinic, which would make it easier for rural people to get health care because of the distance factor.
According to the American Medical Association, more than 35 million people live in underserved areas, and inner cities and rural areas suffer the most dire shortages. It would require 16,000 physicians to immediately alleviate the shortage of doctors in those areas. One government estimate indicates the U.S. could require as many as 24,000 physicians in 2020 to fill the shortage.
On May 2, Anpo graduated from UNMC's College of Medicine.
Through the Accelerated Family Medicine Training Program she began her residency program in Omaha this past year. When finished, she plans to move back to rural panhandle Nebraska with her family, where she'll practice and be closer to her extended family of grandparents and relatives. Anpo's parents are Tillo Herrera and Carol Iron Rope-Herrera. Tillo is from Minitera, Neb. Carol is from Martin, S.D. Anpo's husband David is from Gordon, Neb.
Health care in Nebraska is really a "big issue," says Charging Thunder. "In almost every community there is a shortage… this is why the RHOP program is so important to Nebraska," she says.
The program is really a commitment to the quality of health care rural Nebraska residents receive, she says.
"I've been very satisfied with the program," said Charging Thunder. It provides an excellent financial aid package that makes the tuition affordable, she says.
To date, 290 RHOP students have graduated and 188 are currently enrolled and attending Chadron, Wayne State or UNMC. Almost 60 percent of graduates are practicing in Nebraska rural communities and 10 percent are practicing in rural communities in other states.