Ten years ago, when Amrita Iyengar was pursuing an undergraduate engineering degree, she sought a program that would take her far from her hometown of Maysville, Ky. She landed on the University of California at Berkeley, which, of the schools to which she applied, was the furthest possible distance from home.

Engineering was an exciting career path. It eventually led Iyengar to building cars at Tesla and General Motors, followed by a brief stint in nanomanufacturing research at the University of Texas-Austin.

But little by little, and to her surprise, Iyengar missed home. She faced what she calls “a crisis of conscience,” and the next thing she knew, she was applying for medical school. Now, she is enrolled in University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Rural Physician Leadership Program to become a doctor who specializes in caring for patients of rural communities like her own.

For this training, she’s in Morehead, Ky., only 50 miles from her hometown.

Iyengar was motivated by the fact that smaller communities typically face limited access to health care including longer distances to hospitals, fewer health care providers, and a shorter supply of resources. Iyengar’s father is one of only two cardiologists in Maysville. Her mother was a nurse in eastern Kentucky. Early on, Iyengar witnessed the responsibility her parents carried and understood the health risks associated with living in a rural community.

“The more specialists that we have in a rural place, the lower the risk,” she said. “If someone were to have a heart attack in Maysville, it shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

What also comes with smaller communities is connectedness, a quality that drew Iyengar back home from the busy cities. She grew up knowing that her parents were valued by their community. Patients stopped them to say “hello” in the grocery store.

“I don't look like a lot of people from my town. I don't have the same name. I didn't hear the same languages growing up at home,” Iyengar said. “And I think that that's OK because rural Kentucky communities are welcoming. They want to reciprocate the love that you give them.”

Now as a medical student preparing to graduate, Iyengar wants to help make health care more plentiful and accessible for Kentucky’s rural towns, “the heart and soul” of the state that she proudly calls home.