Dear Reader,

On Wednesday, Stephens College officially opened a new physician’s assistant program. The college president called it a game changer. The new director said his graduates could address the health care desert in mid-Missouri.

Wait. What?

There are approximately 1 kazillion doctors, nurses, physician assistants and medical specialists of all kinds in Our Fair City. Or at least a bamillion. There may be as many doctors of the medical kind in town as journalists — wait, now I’m just exaggerating.

Still, you get my point.

At the news critique of the article the next morning, one of the editors even snorted (really! I heard it) at the notion of a health care desert here. 

But there might be one if you live in Pilot Grove or Pisgah.

It depends on how you define mid-Missouri.

In this case, program Director Eric Johnson told me, a general rule of thumb is when a patient has to travel more than 30 to 45 minutes to receive health care. That may not seem like a lot. But some people don’t have the means to travel that far, or do it on a regular basis.

There are lots of other definitions of mid-Missouri.

The Columbia metropolitan statistical area is defined as Boone and Howard counties, according to the Missouri Research and Information Center. The official combined statistical area (metro and “micropolitan”) includes Mexico, which is in Audrain County, and Moberly, which is in Randolph.

There you go. The official designation(s).

But can you really leave Cole County off the map? Jefferson City is pretty much smack dab in the middle, too. Same for Boonville, in Cooper County.

Television and radio have broader descriptions, usually defined as how far a station can go from its transmission towers. KOMU’s advertising information describes a core 14-county region, from as far north as Chariton in the north to Maries in the south.

Remember the old ad that asked how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Mr. Cow said: “One, two, three (crunch) — three.”

I’ll often hear people complain that they want the news to deliver just the facts. But “facts” aren’t facts unless there is some common definition, some common meaning.

The simplest response for a journalist is to ask the people being interviewed what they mean or how they would describe a term. In this case, a health care desert was described by a drive.

If something as simple as “mid-Missouri” can be elusive, though, image the difficulty of pinning down big stuff.

The receivers of information may refuse to accept what would seem like common definitions, common “facts.” Belief can refute even the strongest set of facts. (Insert climate change here.)

And the more you read stuff that agrees with your partisan views, the more likely you are to reject anything that runs counter to your beliefs, according to a study released by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. (What, you don’t read that journal religiously? Check out the Poynter article reporting on the study’s findings.)

What to do about it? I’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I welcome your suggestions.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Tom Warhover is the executive editor of the Missourian. Contact him by e-mail at or by phone at (573) 882-5734.

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