Drs. Heidi and Carey Allen find their niche in rural Oregon


June 7, 2013

It’s a challenge for primary care providers everywhere: How to convince patients to make preventive, routine care a priority instead of waiting until disease arrives to visit a doctor? In the Central Oregon town of Prineville, population 9,253, where patients might live on ranching spreads 60 miles from a clinic, the challenge is even greater.

“I see older gentlemen who have come here to work the land, who’ve lived on their own for many years, and for them, seeing a doctor to prevent sickness is not in their thinking,” said Carey Allen, M.D. R ’11, a family physician who began practicing in Prineville last year. “We see a subset of people who are very independent and want to stay that way.”

Subsequently, Dr. Allen and his wife and fellow family practitioner, Heidi Allen, M.D. R ’11, often reconfigure treatment plans and spend as much time coaching for health as providing care.

It’s all part of belonging to this rural community, and they like it that way. Ever since a watershed rotation at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in rural family medicine, they’ve been focused on training as family physicians and working together in a small community.

PrinevilleHappily, the high school sweethearts found the right fit with OHSU’s Cascades East Family Medicine Residency Program in Klamath Falls, Ore. “The training prepares you for small town practice where you’re both the first-line provider and the one wearing the cardiology hat, the endocrinologist hat and multiple other hats,” said Dr. Heidi Allen. “So we felt prepared for a place like Prineville.”

Deeply involved in their community, the Allens lead the area’s pulmonary rehabilitation program, teach classes and even participate in city council affairs. It’s a facet of practice they honed in Klamath Falls, where community engagement is strongly emphasized.

Cascades East plays a part in the School of Medicine’s strategy to serve rural workforce needs. Sixty percent of its graduates practice in communities with 25,000 or fewer people. Of the eight graduates of the Class of 2012, seven are practicing in communities such as Bandon, Ore., and Trail, British Columbia.

Joyce Hollander-Rodriguez, M.D. ’00 R ’03, assistant professor of family medicine and program director, is also a graduate. “I wanted to focus on populations most in need of care, and rural poverty populations are very underserved,” she said. “The training here allows people to be really comfortable with the scope of practice needed in small communities and places with geographic barriers to access.”

The Allens, for their part, are settling into Prineville life. They’re anticipating the birth of their first child as well as the opening of a new local hospital and wellness center.

One wonders, though, practicing in the same town, clinic and specialty, do they ever tire of each other? “I think Heidi gets sick of me sometimes,” said Dr. Carey Allen, laughing. “But I love having her here. I always have someone to bounce stuff off of.” For this committed couple, it’s nothing but good health served with small town spirit for patients walking through their clinic door.

Pictured above: (top) Prineville, Ore.; (bottom) Drs. Heidi and Carey Allen