For Country Doctor, House Calls are a Hike Down Grand Canyon

Bringing Healthcare to Remote Areas

Family practitioner Ken Jackson is known around Kingman, Ariz., as the "Cowboy Baby Doctor," though he says the nickname is a bit misleading — he doesn't always ride a horse or wear his cowboy hat, and he prefers alternative rock to country music. But for the past three years, Jackson has traveled by horseback once a month deep into the Grand Canyon to provide prenatal care for Supai, a remote Native American village of about 400 that is inaccessible by automobile.

It is the last place in the USA to which the U.S. Postal Service makes deliveries by mule. In winter, Jackson makes the trip by helicopter. But come spring, he'll climb on one of his horses for the trip to Supai, on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Jackson, 62, who has worked on Native American reservations and in small and medium-sized towns for most of his 36 years as a physician, was recently named 2010 Country Doctor of the Year. 

The award, which honors a primary care physician who exemplifies the spirit of rural practitioners, is given by Staff Care, the largest physician staffing service in the country, to physicians practicing in communities of 30,000 or less. For 16 years Jackson also has made medical visits to the Indian Health Service clinic on the Hualapai (pronounced ?WAH-lah-pie?) reservation in nearby Peach Springs, Ariz. In addition, he sees patients in his family medicine practice in Kingman and serves on the labor and delivery staff at Kingman Regional Medical Center. A family medicine physician certified in obstetrics, Jackson estimates that he has delivered more than 4,000 babies.

Whether it's making a visit to Supai, driving home at 3 or 4 a.m. after a complicated delivery, or treating one of his family practice patients for a routine ailment, "what I do is very validating," says Jackson. "Every single encounter that you have is important, and it's important that you give the best that you can to everyone who comes through the door." That philosophy of compassion and sincerity helped Jill and Chuck Cone of Kingman select Jackson as their family doctor. "He has a way of relating to each person and making them feel respected and cared about," says Jill Cone. Jackson delivered three of Kendra Hernandez's children.

The nurse's aide at the Peach Springs Health Center says Jackson always makes extra time for expecting and new moms at the clinic, even if they're not on the schedule. "He's on top of everything ... and we always have a good time with him," adds Hernandez, whose ancestry is Hualapai and Mojave. "He makes everyone laugh." Debbie DeMarce, an infection prevention specialistat Kingman Regional Medical Center, nominated Jackson for the country doctor award and says she was impressed with his commitment to an underserved community that often battles high rates of diabetes, alcoholism, poverty and teen pregnancy. Jackson was raised in Colorado and graduated from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Early in his career, he accepted a position at the Indian Health Service Hospital on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz.

Before arriving in Kingman in 1991, he spent a decade working in a private medical practice in Pinetop, Ariz., which borders the White Mountain reservation. Over the years, he says, he has developed a fascination with and respect for the Southwest and Native American culture; he has twice crossed the state of Arizona on horseback (west to east and north to south) and recently published his first book, Manifest West, a fictionalized suspense novel about a physician on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Now he is working on a sequel, but he says he hasn't given any thought to quitting his day job. "I love the contact with the patients and the health care people who are working to help our patients," he says. "Every day has its challenges, but at the end of the day, I feel worthy. With every encounter, you have the chance to do the right thing."

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