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No place like home for rural doctor

Country doctors are hard to find.  Which is what makes "Country Doctor of the Year" Katrina Poe so extraordinary. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

KILMICHAEL, Miss. — Country doctors are hard to find. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about 20 percent of the population lives in rural areas, but only 10 percent of  doctors are rural. Which is what makes "Country Doctor of the Year" Katrina Poe so extraordinary.

Before sunrise, Poe has already been at work for hours. She is the only doctor at a 19-bed hospital and clinic in sleepy Kilmichael, population 838.

And with specialists more than an hour away, she has to have an extraordinary range of expertise.

"Sometimes I have to take care of the family pets as well," she says.

She could have made things easier for herself. After graduating from the University of Mississippi medical school, Poe had several job offers and could have moved to a big city like most young physicians — making more money, working fewer hours.  

But Katrina Poe grew up here. And after leaving for college, this daughter of garment factory workers decided to come home. She is the first black or female doctor ever to come from or work in Kilmichael.

"I love what I do," she says. "I love being here."

If Poe wasn't at Kilmichael Hospital, the smallest hospital in Mississippi, it would have been forced to shut down, leaving 800 people without a physician.

John Silvola was one of her first patients four years ago. Now she treats his whole family.

"I believe in angels, and I believe that God sent her here to this little town," he says.

Poe would like to spend more time with her husband and two young boys. Still, she calls her work "a blessing."

"It weighs on your mind," she says. "But it is still a wonderful honor, you know, that people look to you to take care of them."

And that's a big deal for a small country town with just one doctor, keeping medical care close to home.