Towns, Big Hearts:
Graduates Return to Rural Roots
more than a century, the UK College of Agricultures reputation
for excellence has been built on educating young people to become
farmers and agribusiness leaders. Recently, it has added to its
prestige a reputation for preparing students well for professional
school doctors, lawyers, and dentists, many of whom return
to rural Kentucky to practice their professions. We highlight
three of these former ag students who are making their marks in
professional practices in rural Kentucky.
a long way from Hartford, Kentucky to the nearest opera, but
for Dr. Leticia Tiche Tucker, M.D., a back yard cricket
symphony accompanied by a
firefly light show is really more enjoyable than going to the
opera anyway. And she can savor the cricket songs every summer
night by just stepping outside her back door.
Tucker (College of Agriculture 1990-1994, ag biotech) is among
a growing number of College of Agriculture students who are using
their undergraduate educations and experience as springboards
to professional school before returning to rural Kentucky to ply
their trades. Dr. Tucker will begin her career in Hartford, a
small town in Ohio County, in August.
Dr. Tucker, the science aspects of the ag biotechnology program
helped her score high on the medical school entrance examinations.
(Dr. Tucker admits she still hasnt finished her B.S. degree
she entered medical school shy just a few undergraduate courses.)
She was accepted into Ross University Medical School and trained
in New York City where she completed her M.D. degree before starting
her residency in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But she learned more
than just science in the College of Agriculture. She learned life
skills that will allow her to become a successful small-town doc.
of my agriculture background, I was more well rounded and practical
about approaches to patients and colleagues than my classmates
who came from other backgrounds. And I was the only one in my
class who could talk about rural life comfortably without being
condescending, she said.
addition, she said, working with animals through Block and Bridle
paid off in a quirky sort of way. I find my animal husbandry
skills very helpful when Im trying to look into toddlers
ears, especially when they want no part of it.
a rural practice, when its well recognized that rural physicians
work more hours per week for less money? A rural practices
rewards in lifestyle are more important than the monetary rewards
for people like Dr. Tucker.
chose a rural practice because the values of the rural people
are my values. I love Kentuckians and no other place in the world
than Kentucky would do, the Shelby County native said.
our College of Agriculture is being recognized as a place to study
science. Weve always been known for preparing well our students
who go on to veterinary school, but now students are finding our
College is excellent for preparing students for medical and pharmacy
schools, said Joe Davis, the Colleges associate dean
increasing number of students entering medical school programs
directly from the undergraduate program is a compelling witness
to the colleges preparation in the sciences, because medical
schools have recently preferred slightly older students to fresh
graduates. The fact that the Colleges new grads can compete
for medical school seats attests to the strength of their academic
preparation, as well as the students maturity.
addition to preparing future rural doctors well and
many do return to rural areas the College also has a reputation
for preparing students to become attorneys. And the practice of
rural and small-town law requires special skills. Its not
like Perry Mason at all and College of Agriculture students seem
particularly adept at working in small towns.
lawyers often work alone, or in small firms. Because of this,
they must be general practitioners, which includes divorce, estates,
criminal defense representation, real estate, and litigation for
all manner of court cases. Brian N. Thomas has elected to practice
law in a small town. His office, like those of many small-town
and rural lawyers, is located on Main Street, across from the
Clark County Courthouse in Winchester, Kentucky (population 16,000),
about 25 minutes east of Lexington. Winchester is the kind of
place where every birth is celebrated and every death is mourned
because each event affects somebody you know.
Winchester native admits he had no intention of attending the
UK College of Agriculture; the thought had never crossed his mind
when he graduated from high school in 1987. However, the county
Extension agent at that time, Paul Deaton, advised him that some
scholarship money was offered for qualified students in the College
of Agriculture. That convinced Thomas to consider the College.
And hes glad he did.
an agricultural economics major with an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
scholarship, Thomas learned that the College was a hands-on, learn-as-you-go
place. By the second day, he was helping two College of Agriculture
faculty members in agricultural economics (Jerry Skees and David
Debertin) conduct a survey about farmers and the publics
perception of burley tobacco. Because of his involvement with
that project, he had the opportunity to present a paper to an
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco seminar, an experience that helped him hone
his presentation skills, a benefit to a lawyer who really does
argue cases in court.
After completing his B.S. degree in agriculture, Thomas attended
the University of Louisville Law School, graduating with a Juris
Doctor degree in 1994. Once he passed the Kentucky and Indiana
bars, Thomas practiced as an attorney in the risk management division
of an inland river transportation company in Indiana, a company
whose cargo was often agricultural commodities.
three years, Thomas moved back home to pursue his career in small-town
law with the firm of Grant, Rose and Pumphrey in Winchester.
A small-town practice lets you interact closely with your
clients including lots of people involved in agriculture
and agribusiness. You see clients and clients opponents
every day at the grocery store and the like. Small-town law lets
you work with a variety of cases from probate to contracts, corporations
to litigation. I know that Thomas Wolfe said you cant
go home again. Obviously, he never lived in Winchester,
Kentucky, he said.
said his undergraduate program in agricultural economics prepared
him well for life as a small-town attorney. I use knowledge
that I gained and information that I learned as an undergraduate
every day. Because many of my clients are farmers or have farm
backgrounds, I draw on my College of Agriculture experiences daily,
Wesley Porter arrived at the University of Kentucky in 1990
as a first-year student, his goal was to earn a degree in animal
sciences and perhaps even a doctorate in the field at some later
date. As with many people, times change and so do their minds.
After receiving his B.S. degree in 1994, Wes returned home to
tiny Gracey, Kentucky (population 92) and farmed for a short time
with his parents, Kenneth and Sally Porter, before taking a job
with Carl S. Akey, Inc. in Ohio. He worked as a nutrition technician
for the swine nutrition consulting company for 18 months before
deciding to make a career switch. He toyed with the idea of getting
a doctorate in animal sciences, but realized that that career
would not get him very close to home, which was one of his life
goals. However, a major career switch might allow him to move
back closer to Gracey.
uncle, Tommy Porter (whos also a UK ag college graduate)
is a dentist in Hopkinsville, so the idea of becoming a dentist
was something that I had been exposed to and considered from time
to time, Porter said. It was now time for Porter to make
that decision for good.
applied for a seat at University of Kentuckys dentistry
school in the spring of 1996 for entrance that fall. He was readily
accepted and unlike many other students in the class of 2000,
he was not required to complete any more classes before he started;
his B.S. in animal sciences had provided him with the scientific
background required for entrance into dentistry school.
When Porter now Dr. Porter finished his dentistry
degree, he was ready to go back home.
bought an existing practice from a dentist who had been practicing
general dentistry for more than 30 years. I see lots of familiar
faces as patients and have gained many new ones whove decided
to change dentists because they knew me and my family, Porter
said. He does admit that some of them chide him for being a dentist,
saying that would have expected him to work with cows and not
with peoples teeth.
agriculture education is invaluable; the people I met in undergraduate
school have become lifelong friends. I even met my wife, Lori
Thomas, there, said Porter, who became a father for the
first time last year.
And even though Dr. Porter maintains a promising practice in Hopkinsville,
he hasnt given up his ag school roots: hes still active
on the family farm in Gracey, helping with the crops and raising
sheep and cattle of his own. u