Dr. David Cutsforth and Dr. David Grube, two National Health Service Corps (NHSC) alumni from the 1970s, are extraordinary examples of clinician retention in an underserved area. Dr. Cutsforth knew as a young boy that he wanted to be a physician when he got older, while Dr. Grube had aspirations to become a Presbyterian minister or band leader. Later their paths would cross, and they would develop a special bond through attending the same medical school and joining the NHSC at the time. After completing their NHSC service obligations in 1979, the two family physicians purchased the NHSC clinic in Philomath, Oregon, where they had served as members of the Corps. Both doctors remained at the clinic faithfully for 35 years, recently retiring in August 2012. “We completed the initial vision of the NHSC of taking a critical health professional shortage area, stationing well trained primary care physicians there, having them become successful, and eventually, stay as private physicians, thus eliminating the critical health shortage designation,” says Dr. Cutsforth reflecting on his career in Philomath.
Dr. Cutsforth and Dr. Grube both attended medical school at what was then called University of Oregon Medical School (now called Oregon Health and Science University) and graduated in June 1973. They went their separate ways for their residency programs in Houston, Texas (Cutsforth) and Tucson, Arizona (Grube), but little did they know that they would soon be reunited through NHSC service sites. After both reading about the program in a medical journal, they tore out the postcard to send it in for more information and would soon find themselves on a conference call with one of the regional heads of the then Department of Health Education and Welfare. Dr. Cutsforth and Dr. Grube signed up right away as NHSC members, and in 1974, they were based at a clinic in Grand Coulee, Washington where they served for three action-packed years practicing everything from general family medicine to specialty services, including a few successful emergency C-sections. Grand Coulee was a very remote area with American Indians representing a large part of the population; Drs. Cutsforth and Grube developed a very close relationship with their patients and developed a strong kinship with the medical staff.
In September of 1977, both doctors left Grand Coulee to start an NHSC clinic in Philomath, Oregon, a small town with a population of 2,000 at the time (now close to 5,000), where people made their living from farming and lumber mills. “Our experience in Grand Coulee made me realize that I would never want to leave a place where I am very close to my patients,” says Dr. Cutsforth. As a result, they remained in Philomath, Oregon for 35 years. Some of their accomplishments during their tenure included: leading a community initiative in 2011 to petition to keep fluoride in the water after the city council initially decided to take the fluoride out; growing their practice to having five board-certified family practitioners; making Philomath one of the first cities in Oregon to go tobacco-free; receiving a variety of awards from their peers, including Oregon Family Practitioner of the Year (Grube and Cutsforth), Oregon Physician Citizen of the Year (Grube), and America’s Family Practitioner of the Year (Cutsforth). Their most coveted honor was receiving a Superior Service Award plaque after completing their five years of service with the NHSC in 1979.
Drs. Cutsforth and Grube have much to be proud of as NHSC alumni such as being pro-active with preventative health care, staying well connected to the community, being able to balance practicing medicine with raising a family, and serving as active volunteers and teachers in the community. “Going to a place that has no resources, we should be able to give everyone good care,” says Dr. Cutsforth when asked how his experience working in an underserved community has impacted him and his view of public health. When asked what he would want young clinicians going through medical training to know about serving in an underserved area, Dr. Grube said, “Many nations require young people to have a couple years of service, but it would be wonderful if all young providers coming out of medical school could do service in an underserved area. I am very grateful for the NHSC.”