For about 30 years, Illinois Farm Bureau has injected about $320,000 into the mission to get health care for farmers, by means of the Rural Nurse Practitioner Scholarship Program.
This year alone, the bureau will award 15 scholarships in the amount of $4,000, funded by the Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program.
Alex Kentner is a Vermilion County farmer and a 2018 recipient of one of the scholarships that helped him complete his degree in March 2020 online through Olivet Nazarene University. He now works in prompt care at OSF Healthcare in Danville.
As a resident of Bismarck, a village of about 500 in Vermilion County, he knows the challenge of getting a farmer in front of a doctor.
“Farmers are very resilient,” said Kentner, 30. “They take on not only physical stress. It’s mental stress. They deal with a lot of stuff, and in turn, they don’t really take care of themselves, because they’re caring for their land, their livestock, their crops and their families.”
“I don’t like to go to the doctor, so getting a farmer out of the tractor, into the truck and to a doctor is a challenge,” said Donna Gallivan, who’s managed the RIMSAP program for about 10 years. “Their priorities are a little different. They might be more apt to push things off.”
When the program began 29 years ago, scholarships worth $2,000 were awarded to a couple of students. The RIMSAP board bumped the awards up to $4,000 around the time Gallivan became program manager, and after giving out fewer than 10 last year, it committed to 15 in 2021.
“It’s the need, the need to have medical staff in rural areas,” Gallivan said. “A lot of these rural areas are like a food desert. Some of these farmers might have to drive an hour or more to a clinic.”
For students to be eligible, they must commit to working two years in Illinois per scholarship. Megan Tuetken, of Irving, a village of fewer than 400 an hour’s drive south of Springfield, plans to apply for her third scholarship, meaning if she gets it, she’ll be on the hook for six years in Illinois — which poses zero issues. Her family and her husband’s family have farmed the area for generations. In fact, before building his own home, her cousin lived in the same house on a centennial farm that was home to their grandparents and great-grandparents.
“I don’t know that there’s anywhere else we’d ever go, or anything else we would do,” Tuetken said. “The land has been in our family for years.”
Same goes for Kentner, who is Bismarck born and bred.
“I’ve always enjoyed the small-town setting,” he said. “It was just always a goal of mine to provide care in this setting. It’s where I want to raise my family. There’s a huge need in underserved communities like this one.”
Right after earning her bachelor’s degree at Millikin University in 2005, Tuetken got a job at Memorial Medical Center, where she still works in the ICU. She’ll finish her nurse practitioner degree online through Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville in May 2022.
In addition to farming, her husband, Luke, previously worked a second job at the power plant in Coffeen before it closed — the day she started nurse practitioner school.
“So that was cool,” she said, laughing.
Luke quickly landed another second job with Corteva Pioneer, but it didn’t pay quite as well as the power plant gig. So the scholarship is crucial to the family.
“We were going to make it work no matter what, but it definitely helped,” Megan said.
The Farm Bureau gives recipients a list of about 175 approved practice communities, Gallivan said. Danville was added recently, after Kentner wrote a letter to the board asking it be included.
Tuetken is doing her clinicals in Hillsboro, a cool 10-minute drive from the family farm.
“I would love to work closer to home as a nurse practitioner,” she said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”
She’s hoping there will be a job there for her, or in another nearby community.
One thing’s for certain: There will always be a need.
“Having a nurse practitioner near those communities is so important,” Gallivan said. “You figure if you’re a farmer and you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you can go to the clinic in the next town over, rather than losing half a day to drive to the bigger cities to have it done.”
Applications for the Rural Practitioner Scholarship Program are available at county Farm Bureaus throughout the state, on the Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program website at RIMSAP.com, or by writing Donna Gallivan, program manager, Illinois Farm Bureau, PO Box 2901, Bloomington, IL 61702-2901. Applications are due May 1. For more information, contact Gallivan at 309-557-2350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.