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Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center

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The Most Complete Care: An Interview with Alix Cooper, MD

Alix Cooper always enjoyed watching medical dramas on TV. By four years old, Alix was already telling their babysitter that they were going to be a heart surgeon one day. Despite this early enthusiasm, it wasn’t until Alix attended their first MedQuest camp, at the age of 15, that they developed an understanding of what the path to being a medical doctor would look like. In retrospect, Alix recognizes the significance of this NEOAHEC programming that introduces young people to the resources and options available for careers in rural healthcare.

Alix is from McMinnville, Oregon, but soon after their birth, the family moved to Hood River, so their parents, an engineer and a police officer, could more easily pursue their love of windsurfing. Alix became aware of NEOAHEC’s MedQuest health career camp when their sister, Caley Melton, attended in 2007, and Alix attended their first camp the following year (Caley also went on to a career in healthcare as a licensed clinical social worker). In the succeeding years, Alix continued to participate in MedQuest and MedStars programs. They also served as a MedQuest counselor for five years while finishing high school and during their undergraduate work at the University of Puget Sound (UPS).

NEOAHEC’s Executive Director, Meredith Lair, remembers Alix as a perennially important asset to the program, “Alix has a quiet kind of leadership that makes everyone feel welcome and safe. They were the first to celebrate with the campers after an amazing job shadow and were there for them when they missed home or needed someone to talk with. When I think back to Alix’s time as a counselor, I can still feel the impact that they had on campers who needed that extra support. Alix’s ability to recognize people in a vulnerable situation is one of the reasons they will be the kind and compassionate doctor that makes a difference in their rural community.”

Alix’s dream of being a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon was still intact as they finished their Bachelor of Science in biology and minor in bioethics at UPS, but it was during this time, while working in the emergency department at Tacoma General Hospital, that they began to notice that many of the issues people were bringing to the hospital could have been prevented by having a stronger relationship with their primary care providers. These observations changed the trajectory of Alix’s career. They entered Oregon Health & Sciences University (OSHU) with a desire to practice family medicine in a rural area because they had come to believe this was the most versatile and best-suited way to serve those communities. After completing three years at OHSU’s Portland campus, Alix moved to the Klamath Falls campus as an Oregon First student, a program that allows students to complete their final year of medical school at the Cascades East Family Medicine rural residency site.

Alix completed medical school just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold. They began their residency at Cascades East Family Medicine in 2020. This program, a partnership between OHSU and Sky Lakes Medical Center, was initiated with the help of Oregon Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in 1994, and it operates with the mission to educate family practitioners so they can excel at providing care in rural settings. During their residency, Alix had the opportunity to complete multiple rural and frontier rotations. They fondly remember their five weeks spent in Lakeview, Oregon, a ranching community on the California border. They enjoyed meeting new people and learning about their lives in a town with less than 2,500 residents. “It shows you the more human side of medicine.” The experiences provided through the Cascades East Family Medicine residency further solidified Alex’s intention to be a family practitioner in a small-town community.

Alix and their wife moved to Astoria, Oregon in 2023, and Alix accepted their first post-residency position at Coastal Family Health Center as a family practice doctor. One of the reasons for choosing Astoria is that it fulfills a National Health Service Corps Scholarship requirement to practice for two years in a federally qualified Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Another reason is that it’s close to the ocean. Being a family practice doctor allows Alix to provide the most complete care to their neighbors, which is essential when access to the plethora of specialists in larger metro areas is unavailable. She enjoys the challenge of being able to say to her patients, “If you were in city, I would refer you to a dermatologist for this. But we don't have a dermatologist, so we're going to figure it out together.”

Alix acutely understands this issue, having recently experienced their own frustrations with navigating the medical system. “It doesn't really matter where you are. Even if you're in a city, it's not easy. Even if you're a doctor. But I think people in rural areas have an especially difficult time accessing care.”

By growing our own healthcare professionals through pathway programming, NEOAHEC can help to create self-sufficient communities, places where we all take care of each other, where we know our doctors outside of their offices. Alix offers this sentiment, “That's the core of why we try to recruit people through programs like MedQuest. If you're in La Grande, and your doctor is from La Grande, and grew up in La Grande, and knows all the same people as you, you're more likely to take their advice.”

Even though this is only the beginning of Alix’s journey as a doctor, one thing is for certain: their knowledge and passion will remain rural. Alix says, “I love Oregon. I feel like it's the best place on Earth…I think it'll be helpful to have trained in Oregon [as I] continue to work in Oregon.”

Coop & Alix Cooper