For Niki and Aaron Salomon, the return to a rural community to practice health care was more than a job opportunity.

Patients become friends, neighbors become patients.

“You help them keep track of their medications or fit them with diabetic shoes. You treat them during their illness and celebrate birthdays and holidays with them.”

This is what it means to return to a rural community to practice, they say.

As graduates of UNMC’s Rural Health Opportunities Program, the Salomons settled in Gothenburg, Neb., where Aaron is a physician assistant and Niki, who travels 22 miles east to Lexington, Neb., is a pharmacist. She also works one day a week at the local pharmacy in Gothenburg.

Both have become so integral in the fabric of their community that they measure their success not in their degrees or awards earned, but in the people whose lives have been changed because of it.

“Aaron has literally saved lives through his diagnosis,” said Dan Tinlin, a local resident and member of the board of the Gothenburg Hospital Foundation.

Having the additional medical professionals in the community is essential when recruiting businesses to set up shop there and retaining them after they arrive, Tinlin said, adding that Gothenburg is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Monsanto, Frito Lay and Baldwin Filters.