Sangeeta Khetpal, M.D., is not your average Oklahoman. She attended medical school in Sindh, Pakistan, at the Peoples University of Medical & Health Sciences for Women, and before moving to Oklahoma, she lived with her cardiologist husband and their two young children in Saint Louis. When Khetpal finished her residency in internal medicine, she landed at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Now Khetpal is a strong proponent of practicing medicine in Oklahoma. She believes the area is on an economic upswing. “Oklahoma offers more than a skilled workforce,” she says, adding that the area has a strong business environment.
The business climate is important to Khetpal because she is an entrepreneur as well as a physician. She runs her own private practice, The Heart & Medical Center. “I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur and work as a self-employed physician,” she says. “I wanted predictability and a structured environment in my job setting, which is very difficult to achieve in a small, self-run practice.”
Still, business is good. In addition to its flagship facility in Durant, Oklahoma, The Heart & Medical Center has facilities in nearby Atoka and Kingston. The staff of 20 includes Khetpal and three other full-time physicians: two internal medicine specialists and Khetpal’s husband, Vivek Khetpal, M.D.
Physicians who don’t share the entrepreneurial gene, or who want to work on a larger team, can find still plenty of other job opportunities in southeastern Oklahoma.
The area’s several major health care systems include Universal Health Services, Inc. and Mercy. Mercy operates 32 hospitals and nearly 300 outpatient facilities in four states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. In southeastern Oklahoma, Mercy operates Mercy Hospital Tishomingo, a 25-bed facility.
The Chickasaw Nation Division of Health is another area health care employer. The division serves Oklahoma’s Native American population at several facilities, including Chickasaw Nation Health Center and Ardmore Health Clinic.
“Most of what I recruit for is primary care,” says Ronnie Shaw, a recruiter for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health. “We don’t have all specialties—not the comprehensive amount that you’ll find in larger facilities—but we do have quite a few.” He recruits for psychiatry, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and endocrinology in particular.
Shaw says that although his job is challenging, he knows living in rural Oklahoma has rewards for physicians. Those who are willing to take a chance can live comfortably and learn about themselves.
Shaw explains, “So many doctors gravitate to the sexy states: Florida, Texas, California. Eighty to 90 percent of doctors want to live in an urban or suburban metro area. It’s a small percentage of doctors that are entertaining going to a more rural area. It has its own challenges, but of the doctors who have recently joined us, if they come on board, they love it. There are a lot of things to be gained if you give it a chance.”
Some physicians who come to work for Chickasaw Nation Medical Center embrace their latent rural selves, says Shaw. “I have people say, ‘I’d like to have a little land.’ I get people who just want a couple of acres or some people who want a ranch situation. I have a doctor who bought horses. It’s the benefit of being in a more rural area.” And Oklahoma City makes a great day trip for those itching for a pro sports game or a shopping spree.
That said, Janet Reed, executive director of the Durant Chamber of Commerce, says you don’t need to leave the area even if you want an exciting Friday night out. “We have a five-star property called the Choctaw Casino Resort. They have a grand theater which hosts a variety of household name stars on tour,” says Reed.
“Our economy is growing. It has been for the past 10 years,” says Reed. This good economy encourages a philanthropic spirit. People who live in Durant and greater southeastern Oklahoma tend to devote free time to volunteering, she says. “We have 48 nonprofits within Bryan County,” she says. “They all provide different services throughout the community. I am very fortunate that the chamber of commerce has a membership of 550, and with that 550, those companies motivate their employees to get involved however they can. We have a very involved community.”
Reed says the community-oriented spirit of southeastern Oklahoma extends to residents’ upbeat temperaments and welcoming attitudes. She says, “It’s a very friendly community. Everybody is welcoming and very open to new people moving in. That’s one of the comments I get from throughout the community. People are very gracious when they have visitors in the area or when new people are moving to the area.”
Khetpal agrees. She says her favorite thing about living in Oklahoma is its people. She took a chance on southeastern Oklahoma, and now she glows as she describes life there.
“Southeastern Oklahoma is great place to live, to enjoy both your work and your family life,” Khetpal says. “The quality of life is excellent. The state has a low cost of living and offers an abundance of recreation, family, education, tourism and volunteer opportunities.”