Committed to the Small Town
There was a time when Dr. Hana Hinkle dreamed of living the big-city lifestyle and making a major contribution to the medical world. As fate has a way of doing, she got her dream, albeit in a way she hadn’t anticipated.
Today, the Oregon, Ill., native is assistant dean for rural health professions and the director of the National Center for Rural Health Professions at University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. A critical part of her work involves recruiting, training and placing students into small and under-resourced communities where there’s a high need for physicians. She’s also building pathways to help rural youth connect with health careers.
“I consider it my life’s mission to show people that you don’t have to go to an Ivy League school, and you don’t have to have all these resources and advantages,” she says. “You just have to have a willingness and a drive to help others.”
Through the National Center for Rural Health Professions, more than 100 aspiring doctors, pharmacists and nurses are learning how to apply their skills to rural medical systems, where some 60 million Americans receive health care, says Hinkle. While the program specifically serves American communities, the skills and approaches can have an international impact.
“We have medical schools across the world that are trying to replicate what we do here,” Hinkle says.
She first discovered public health and rural medicine while she was a student at the University of Iowa, where she earned a master’s in public health in 2009. A partnership with the Center for Rural Health Professions took her to an immersion experience at KSB Hospital in Dixon, Ill., and the rest clicked into place.
“When I was away at school I started to think about ways that my home community could be supported by my training and education,” she says. “The experience in Dixon helped solidify that for me.” Hinkle later pursued a Ph.D in Health Sciences at Northern Illinois University.
Outside her work at the medical school, Hinkle volunteers in many capacities, including as the president of the Illinois Public Health Association, a role she’s held since 2019. She’s also a big supporter of the arts, including the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, where husband Colin Peterson is board president.
Setting boundaries between so many personal and professional commitments can be challenging, Hinkle says, but it comes easily when you have passion for your work and you can see the broader impact it has in the world.
“It’s something beyond what I dreamed of, being from such a small town,” she says. “I never thought I could have this impact or have the opportunity to work in places like South Africa or Brazil and share the message of what we’re doing here in Rockford.”