Watzak named Rural Health Fellow by National Rural Health Association

Selection viewed as opportunity to expand and enhance Texas A&M’s work with rural hospitals
November 25, 2019

The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) selected Bree Watzak, PharmD, BCPS, director of technical assistance for the Center for Optimizing Rural Health at the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute, as a 2020 Rural Health Fellow. Watzak is among 15 fellows who were selected after a competitive review process to participate in the yearlong, intensive training program that develops visionary leaders in rural health.

The 10 to 15 individuals NRHA selects each year to be Rural Health Fellows have proven their dedication to improving the health of rural Americans. Watzak meets this standard by having immersed herself in the world of rural health to help rural hospitals facing closure. Part of Watzak’s role at the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute is to work with hospitals in rural areas to “right size” care for the communities they serve.

“The answer is not to keep all current rural hospitals open, nor is it to allow them to close one at a time until none are left,” Watzak wrote in her application to the Rural Health Fellowship Program. “Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the right size, which will ensure access to vital health care services. My particular interest is in helping rural communities find their right size because this will not be a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Watzak has learned through her numerous meetings with rural hospital administrators that there are unintended consequences from national policies created without a rural lens. What is fair for a large urban hospital does not always work for a smaller rural hospital.

“I can only work with one hospital at a time. My hope for the 2020 Rural Health Fellows program is that their mentorship will equip the 15 of us to advocate on behalf of rural health and allow us to impact many hospitals,” Watzak said.

Fellows meet in person throughout the year to participate in leadership and advocacy training, take part in monthly conference calls and participate in a mentorship program with current members of NRHA’s Board of Trustees. After completing the program, fellows go on to become part of a networked community of rural health leaders who serve in rural health advocacy groups, local and state legislative bodies and in key positions in NRHA.

— Lindsey Hendrix

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