Rural Family Medicine Program Inspires Physician to Continue Serving Patients in Bogalusa

May 17, 2023 | Team Member Spotlights

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In a rural community, the local family physician is usually expected to know a little bit about everything. They are the first line of defense to treat a variety of minor ailments and even more serious health needs for people with little access to advanced care in larger cities.

Madeleine Leefe Maras, MD, knows this well. She is a family medicine physician for Our Lady of the Angels Health, helping to run a clinic in Bogalusa for patients in rural Washington Parish. 

A New Orleans native, she studied family medicine at Our Lady of the Angels through the LSU Rural Family Medicine Residency Program, fell in love with the community and now also trains new residents as a faculty member for the program.

“We are there for those patients to help them meet their goals and improve their quality of life,” Dr. Maras says. “We really push ourselves to be there for the patients in whatever way they need. It’s very rewarding.”

A Passion for Rural Health

Dr. Maras did her undergraduate studies at Loyola University and then medical school at LSU Health in New Orleans. A couple of experiences traveling and studying abroad showed her the impact a primary care physician could have on a rural community, where access to quality healthcare is often hard to find.

She knew she wanted to have that same impact back home in Louisiana — getting to know a small, close-knit community and developing relationships with her patients that could last years.

“The family medicine doctor is the person who will be there for everything you need,” Dr. Maras says. “Over a long period of time, you get to know each other. You understand your patients’ goals and desires besides just getting their health needs in order. You are there for people of all ages — for prenatal care and deliveries onward through childhood, teenagers and so on.”

Through LSU, she became aware of its rural residency partnership with Our Lady of the Angels Health, which aims to support vulnerable populations in the Washington Parish area, or those who have poor access to care because of income and social inequality. Our Lady of the Angels Hospital in Bogalusa is the only full-service acute care hospital within a 45-mile drive, and the rural residency program is the only one of its kind in the state

Dr. Maras jumped at the opportunity and did three years of residency in Bogalusa through the program.

The rural residency program provides Our Lady of the Angels with 18 residents. It’s an “unopposed” program, meaning the residents can get training in all aspects of care offered at the hospital. For Dr. Maras, that meant the chance to see how family medicine operates in every part of the hospital, from pediatrics to the emergency room to surgery.

“You have to be as up to date as possible on the latest research and medicine so you can do as much as you can for people who maybe can’t go to Covington or Baton Rouge to see these high-level specialty doctors,” Dr. Maras says. 

The Next Generation of Healthcare Leaders

Young physicians also bring a breath of fresh air to a healthcare setting, Dr. Maras says. And the patients get the biggest benefit from their passion and interest in the latest medical treatments and care methods. 

“Every single day, the residents are reading articles to keep up to date on what the patients are going through,” Dr. Maras says. “They are studying how guidelines are changing, how medicine is changing and really challenging each other to become better physicians.”

She says it’s an incredible benefit to the Bogalusa community that Our Lady of the Angels is able to provide an academic environment for bright new minds in healthcare.

On a broader scale, residents often help with Our Lady of the Angels’ community outreach programs, listening to community members and stakeholders about needed health services. Such outreach goes hand in hand with the hospital’s community health needs assessment that more formally gathers the community’s input on the types of health services needed in Bogalusa, from trauma counseling for victims of violent crime to health literacy for people who may need help understanding terminology related to their treatment plans.

For Dr. Maras, now that she’s transitioned to a faculty member in the rural residency program, it’s allowed her to stay connected to the community that she’s fallen in love with and the patients who have become like family to her.  

And she’s able to share that with each new resident that comes through the program and gets to discover Our Lady of the Angels and the Bogalusa community. 

One big thing she’s learned as a family medicine physician is that sometimes, people just want to just talk and be heard. Being fluent in Spanish, Dr. Maras is able to put her language skills into practice as she’s caring for and providing a listening ear to many Spanish-speaking citizens in the Bogalusa area. 

“I think it’s a really beautiful community,” Dr. Maras says, “and the people here are very grateful to us.”

Find out more about the rural residency program at Our Lady of the Angels here.

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