When Hillary Homburg was in high school, she already knew she was interested in medicine. She shadowed physicians, pharmacists, and dentists to learn more about each of the professions. As Hillary tells it, she liked what she saw in the dentist’s office. “I really enjoyed the amount of personal interaction dentists were able to have with their patients and also the variety of procedures they were able to do in a day.”
Hillary, a National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment recipient, is a general dentist in Southern West Virginia at Cabin Creek Health Center, which is a non-profit federally qualified health center in a very rural area.
Hillary had easy access to doctors and dentists growing up in Charleston, West Virginia but knew it wasn’t that way for everyone. She explains, “Most of my mother’s side of the family is in Mingo County, which is a much more rural area. When I would go to visit them, I would see that they would have to drive an hour to get to the doctor, maybe even longer to get to a dentist, and 30 minutes just for a pharmacy.”
Those experiences stuck with Hillary, and she knew that when it came time to practice that she wanted to be at a health center in a rural community. So when she heard about the NHSC from the West Virginia State Office of Rural Health, it was a natural fit. “The wonderful thing about the loan repayment is it allows me to work with the patient population I’m passionate about, without having to worry about the burden of paying back my loans.”
While Hillary appreciates the loan repayment, it’s clear that it’s her work and her patients that are keeping her at Cabin Creek Health Center. “I think that while working at an NHSC site or any public health site can present more challenges than a private practice might, the rewards are also much greater. You are able to help a population of patients who otherwise wouldn’t receive services, and the gratitude of those patients and of the community in general is really worth more than any monetary reward. I feel fortunate that I can make a difference each day and am able to treat and educate patients who otherwise might not have access to service.”
Among the things Hillary and her colleagues have educated patients about is the effect of tobacco use on oral health. “The Cabin Creek Health Center health team is very focused on preventative care and encouraging tobacco cessation. Especially in the southern part of our state chewing tobacco is somewhat of a rite of passage, and people start doing it as kids with their parents. No one ever really talks to them about the health risks or implications, but we make a point of it at Cabin Creek Health Center. We have some people who have stopped chewing tobacco and others in the process of trying to quit smoking.”