An OB-GYN by training, and now President of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, Dr. Joseph Cunningham always loved healthcare.
“I always felt like it was more of a calling than a job,” Cunningham said.
Having grown up in a small-town in Northwest Arkansas, Dr. Cunningham understands the importance of partnerships with like-minded organizations.
“There were less than 100 in my graduation class,” said Cunningham. “So I understand the culture and the needs of small towns and small communities.”
Dr. Cunningham said it’s easy to forget rural communities and its a company-wide goal to partner with organizations focused on delivering services to the people within those rural communities.
“I love the work ethic from the OYE students,” Dr. Cunnigham said. “They have to learn how to manage time, manage work, themselves, their livestock to go to shows, they’re also trying to manage their schoolwork and their home and social life. That combined with an extremely strong work ethic is what I think is really the backbone of the state.”
Rural students understand their communities and the people within them better than anyone.
Hailing from Okemah, Oklahoma, and as one of the first recipients of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma scholarship in partnership with OYE, Katie Taylor is now giving back by completing her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at The University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
“I’ve always been committed to caring for whatever I’m caring for with the utmost dedication.” Katie said. Katie’s love for care was prompted when she started showing pigs at the age of 7.
“Showing 4-H and FFA has definitely taught me about leadership, about working with a team and also time management,” she said.
Katie’s first experience at OYE was when she was in fifth grade when she had to fill in for her older sister, who had two spot barrows in the same class. “It was such a big show,” Katie said, “But it was really exciting.”
The next time Katie returned to the OYE ring, she was in the seventh grade and was a more seasoned showman.
“I was getting more serious with my show career,” Katie said. “I had been attending more jackpots, and naturally I’d want to attend the Oklahoma Youth Expo, being such a huge show.”
Katie continued showing pigs at OYE until her high school graduation. Aside from competitively showing livestock, Katie was involved with her local 4-H and FFA chapter. “It’s taught me a lot about communication,” Katie said.
She said this was especially beneficial to help prepare her for her career as a physical therapist, a role which relies on the one-on-one patient to therapist communication and a good bedside manner.
Katie didn’t discover the physical therapy career option until she did research online.
“What really appealed to me about physical therapy was all the one-on-one time with your patients,” she said. “You work with your patients for up to an hour session up to 3 times a week — that’s so much more time than a medical doctor.”
Katie said the collaboration of organizations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma and OYE is highly noble and with the support from her scholarship she’s able to make a difference in a rural community’s healthcare.
“It kind of meant the world to me, I was just ecstatic,” Katie said of being chosen as a scholarship recipient. “Not one in my family works in the medical field, and for them to pick me out and say, ‘we believe in you’, it really meant a lot.”
After graduation, Katie plans to open up her own outpatient physical therapy clinic in rural Oklahoma.
“I think it’s highly important,” Katie said. “Because accessibility to healthcare is something that everyone needs, and unfortunately people living in rural Oklahoma or rural communities in general just don’t have that luxury.”
Katie understands the necessity because of the nearest physical therapy center to her hometown in Okemah is 30 miles away in Okmulgee.
“We have to make a rural community sustainable from a health standpoint,” Dr. Cunningham said. “We’re not just looking for doctors, we’re not just looking for nurses, we’re looking at everybody who touches a patient throughout the needs of their healthcare.”
The best advice Dr. Cunningham could give to any student is the advice that his grandfather gave him, “Never set your goals too low, because you might just get each and every one of them.”