Dr. Lynn Kratcha legacy reaches “down-under”

We all have the opportunity to leave a legacy when we pass, some of us accomplish this within their own family while other’s legacies are widespread reaching not only their families, friends, but people that they have never met.

Posted on 5/17/14

That would be the legacy of Dr. Lynn Kratcha.

The legacy of Dr. Kratcha started when he was an undergraduate and spent time in North Queensland, Australia. After his time there as both an undergraduate and postgraduate, he decided both rural North Dakotan medicine and medical students in the tropical region of Australia would benefit from a partnership and so decided to set up a clinical bursary, or scholarship program for second year medical students at James Cook University School of Medicine.

Because of the location of the University within Australia and the locations the doctors would eventually serve, understanding rural medicine was vital for new doctors, an opportunity to see how doctors in rural North Dakota practice medicine would give doctors in Australia more foundation to practice rural medicine in Australia.

James Cook University is in North Queensland, Australia which is located in the northeast portion of the country and has a tropical climate featuring 300 days of sun, so when Dr. Kratcha set up a bursary to fund second year medical students for four weeks in North Dakota during January, it was a one-of-a-kind experience in rural medicine.

The bursary is open to all second year medical students. They first must submit a written critique on a medical book or movie. From there the pool of hopefuls is shortened to six or seven candidates who must interview and then give an oral presentation on rural medicine to a panel of judges and cohorts. The winner of the bursary is announced directly after the oral presentations and students typically spend their holiday break, which would be their summer but our winter, in North Dakota.

Dr. Tarun Sen Gupta, Professor of Health Professional Education and overseer of the bursary, said that program allows students in Australia an international experience that promotes rural medicine. Every second year medical student at the university knows about North Dakota, the excellent experience and what rural medicine really is.

Because of the way the bursary is set up, Dr. Gupta says it allows all medical students the opportunity at winning the bursary not just those that are academically strong, but rather the best applicant who will be the best ambassador for the program.

Dr. Aileen Traves, Senior Lecturer-General Practice and rural physician, was the first recipient of the bursary. In 2002, she contacted Dr. Kratcha and his wife before she came and they told her about needing to make sure she had the proper clothes, she assured them that she did, but they still bought her winter weather gear for when she left the airport in Winnipeg. She said she was not expecting the type of weather, but it was part of the defining moments of the trip.

For the next four weeks, she worked with Dr. Kratcha. At first it was just following him around, but as the weeks went by she was able to do more and more on her own. Throughout the experience, she was able to learn simple things to more complex procedures, but watching Dr. Kratcha work in rural medicine cemented her desire to do the same back in Australia.

“At work at Altru Clinic and the hospital in Cavalier, Dr. Kratcha helped me learn the art of being a great rural doctor. I saw how much continuity of care meant to his patients. I learned about the skill of listening. I also saw firsthand some of the inequalities of the health system. He trusted me with undertaking practical skills and supported me in learning about common and rare conditions that walked in the door, Dr. Traves wrote.

“Like Dr. Kratcha, I drive where there is a need. The time here cemented it (her desire to practice rural medicine), and I knew I wouldn’t have done it if not for my time here” Dr. Traves said.

Dr. Traves currently works with a large population of Aboriginies along with serving at the University.

Dr. Traves came back and visited the Kratchas 10 years later and during this trip she was able to talk with Dr. Kratcha. “Most importantly I got the chance to let Lynn know how much he changed my life and inspired me to continue on a career to be a rural family doctor.”

Dr. Gupta continued, adding that for the students that have been part of the bursary it has been instrumental in their careers, for it helped to showcase how rural medicine should be done.

With the passing of Dr. Kratcha in 2012, the University wanted to keep the bursary going, so they strengthened their partnership with the University of North Dakota and renamed the bursary the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Bursary. Dr. Traves and Dr. Gupta, along with Dr. Traves husband, made the trek back to North Dakota in April to talk with Dr. Kratcha’s family and the staff at the Cavalier Clinic in Cavalier about Dr. Kratcha’s legacy and the renaming of the bursary in his honor.

His legacy will continue as Aussie medical students experience rural medicine in North Dakota and take that knowledge back home where they will continue the legacy of rural medicine and Dr. Lynn Kratcha.