To curb a physician shortage in rural areas, a handful of medical schools are offering programs that connect their students with rural communities, the Associated Press reports.
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The rural doctor shortage
Across the United States, HHS data show that most areas facing a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States are rural. These areas need almost 4,000 additional physicians to fill that shortage, AP reports.
That's why schools like the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University offer programs that enable students to experience rural life and get to know the local community.
Trips include whitewater rafting, skiing, and more
Dana King, chair of the family medicine department at West Virginia University School of Medicine, said rural programs can offer future doctors "a little sense of what the fun part of rural life can be." Students in West Virginia's rural program go to a ski resort, visit a coal mine, and go whitewater rafting, AP reports.
Quillen organizes outings and cultural experiences in rural communities, such as biking, hiking, and visits to local museums. Joseph Florence, director of rural programs at Quillen, said rural programs can help students who are from rural areas maintain their enthusiasm for life in a small town.
Ashish Bibireddy was one of nine students who visited rural Appalachia. Bibireddy, who grew up in Edison, New Jersey, a suburban area, and attended the University of Central Florida medical college in Orlando, said he was impressed with the visit. "The people here are genuinely caring," he said.
After his visit, Bibireddy said he was inclined to work in a rural area, though he expressed concern that building relationships in the community as an outsider would be difficult.
But some schools offer programs that can help students overcome that hurdle. For instance, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, students can meet the mayor, police chief, or other community leaders and interview residents to learn about their town.
Mark Deutchman, director of the school's rural programs, said, "We want to give the students an idea about what goes into the workings of a small community."
Do rural programs produce more rural physicians?
Administrators of rural programs say their graduates practice in rural areas at significantly higher rates than those from other schools. Carolyn Sliger, Quillen's rural programs director, said that while most of Quillen's students didn't grow up in rural areas, they've all expressed interest in working with underserved populations.
However, Randall Longenecker, associate project director for the Collaborative for Rural Primary Care, Research, Education, and Practice, noted that many students who participate in a rural medical school experience were likely already interested in practicing in a rural area, which may inflate the numbers. "We skim the cream off the top," Longenecker said (AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/12).