For many students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC), pursuing a life in health care is more than just a career choice. Following this often difficult path requires dedication to enriching the lives of others and shaping the future of health care.
While there are many ways to achieve those goals, TTUHSC takes pride in its aim to transform health care in rural communities. When studying family medicine, students learn a model of patient care that is comprehensive and complete—in other words, caring for the health of an individual as a whole, in all elements of their life and their family’s lives.
Bringing Health Care to Andrews
Dr. Alyssa Tochterman
In Andrews, Texas, a rural town in the Permian Basin about 30 miles east of New Mexico, a small handful of TTUHSC School of Medicine graduates are making a difference—improving the town’s overall wellbeing and finding purpose in doing so.
Pursuing family medicine requires a deep understanding of a wide variety of specialties. For Alyssa Tochterman, M.D., a family medicine physician in Andrews, that is one of the job’s major appeals.
“The idea of family medicine was fascinating to me, especially in a rural environment,” said Tochterman, who explained that working in Andrews allows her to work with a wider variety of pathologies than she would in larger cities.
“You get to constantly switch between a patient with diabetes, sewing up a forehead laceration, delivering a baby, checking on your patient in the hospital and going back to the clinic to do a well-child check,” said Tochterman. “It is very challenging, but in a good way.”
For Tochterman, who is now chief of staff at Permian Regional Medical Center, working in Andrews was an obvious choice for a number of reasons. Having grown up in Abilene, Tochterman was no stranger to West Texas culture. Additionally, her husband was raised in Andrews and her in-laws still live in the town.
“I had come to the city off-and-on early in our marriage and Andrews drew me in. The town took care of its own,” said Tochterman. “Lubbock is the biggest city I've ever lived in, so I get small-town life. Also, I hate traffic.”
Dr. Robert Vasquez
Similarly, fellow School of Medicine graduate Robert Vasquez, M.D., an OB/GYN physician at Permian Regional Medical Center, grew up in Andrews and knew that he would return to the town once he had received his education, bringing knowledge and health care home with him.
“I always knew that I was going to come back here and that my resources would be more limited than my counterparts in larger cities,” said Vasquez. “Texas Tech School of Medicine helped me fulfill that desire to provide care for my hometown.”
In small towns like Andrews, physicians get to know their patients on a personal level. Because of this element of rural living, family medicine is about more than just knowledge and technical skill. It’s about relationship-building, too.
“I love getting to take care of the whole family, and in rural medicine, you get to know whole families even better,” said Tochterman.
Here to Stay
While the decision to bring their expertise to Andrews was an easy one for Tochterman and Vasquez, it hasn’t always been easy for the town to keep dedicated physicians. Upon seeing the need for high-quality medical professionals, Tochterman began recruiting other TTUHSC alumni to join her.
“Shortly after I got to Andrews, some of my older colleagues started to retire and some new hires found that rural medicine was not a good fit for them,” said Tochterman. “I quickly tried to find people who I knew would stay here, so I reached out to colleagues who I knew would fit here. Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Compton fit that bill.”
Amanda Compton, M.D., and Stephanie Fitzgerald, M.D., are both family medicine doctors who have joined Tochterman in providing compassionate rural health care to Andrews. Fitzgerald remarked on the accessibility their presence has brought individuals who can’t reach big-city medical attention.
Dr. Stephanie Fitzgerald
“We are able to provide health care closer to home, so that those living in rural areas do not have to travel great distances to access excellent health care,” said Fitzgerald.
In these rural areas, family medicine doctors provide their patients with not only shorter commutes, but with all-encompassing and long-term service they can rely on.
“Family medicine, holistically, is different in rural areas. We truly get whole family care here. I have a great relationship with area specialists, but a lot of the specialty care falls on me, especially for patients who can't travel,” said Tochterman, who added that part of what makes great relationships is supplying care to the same patients for many years.
“Retention is key. Our community needs doctors that will be here to care for them for years to come,” Tochterman explained.
While it clearly isn’t an easy career choice, these Andrews physicians were educated with the complexities of rural medicine in mind.
Dr. Amanda Compton
“TTUHSC did a wonderful job of ensuring we understood the importance of their mission, and we all want that mission to apply and succeed here in rural Texas,” said Compton.
It is the success of these physicians that improve overall health in places like Andrews—and the patients are not the only ones who benefit. According to Tochterman, solid relationships and the unpredictability of the job are what make it so rewarding.
“Rural medicine truly is a blast. I deliver anywhere from four to 10 babies a month. I see patients up to age 104 and perform a wide variety of procedures in the clinic and hospital,” said Tochterman. “I'm constantly growing as a physician and a mentor on a daily basis here.”