Monday, June 23, 2008

Programs focus on creating more rural doctors

The University of Kentucky College of Medicine will introduce a program this fall designed to train medical students to work in rural communities. Similar programs are growing in popularity across the country.

"Students in the Rural Physician Leadership Track will spend two years at the medical college in Lexington and two years at Morehead State University in Eastern Kentucky. In addition to the medical school curriculum, the students will learn other skills, like the business of setting up a rural practice," Sarah Vos writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The program will recruit up to 10 students in 2008 and 2009, reports It will increase class size at UK to around 113 this fall. UK hopes to open a second program at Murray State University in 2012 if funding becomes available.

Dr. Jay Perman, the dean, told The Daily Independent of Ashland, "If we give (students) a rich clinical experience in the opportunities they'll have in a rural practice, they'll be more likely to return there." Mike James writes for the Independent that "Teachers and mentors will come largely from the rural medicine environment and will serve as role models."

"Kentucky has fewer doctors per capita than the national average, according to an October report by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine," Vos writes. The state averages 213.5 doctors per 100,000 residents compared to the U.S. average of 267.9 per 100,000. Perman said the ratio is even worse in rural areas. About 43 percent of Kentucky residents are rural, but less than a quarter of the state's doctors practice in rural areas, Perman estimates.

Kentucky's program is one of several designed to funnel doctors to rural areas. Fifteen third-year medical students from Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, Calif., "will spend a year in North Coast clinics, shadowing physicians and learning about the medical needs of rural communities," with hopes that students will return to service rural residents, writes Michelle Ma of The Daily Triplicate. Touro University, which is located in the Bay Area, focuses on rural health for its students. This year's clinical rotations are new for the university and will provide students opportunities to work at rural clinics. "If you can get a physician training up here [in a rural area], there's a good chance they'll stay in a rural area," public health officer for Del Norte County, Tom Martinelli, said.

In 2005, the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine began a rural track that had 90 applicants this year and provides "hands-on training earlier than other medical students, and they spend a month each semester helping doctors in rural communities," reports Denver's 9News. Mark Deutchman, the program's director and an M.D., said only 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas though 20 percent of Americans are rural. "A lot of time, through the four years spent at an academic health center, (the) interest in rural medicine kind of goes away, and we're trying to keep that spark alive," he told 9News. Jack Berry, a program volunteer who had a rural practice for many years, said, "If you can help people understand that really rural medicine is the place that's the most fun, even now, they're gonna stay with it."

Other universities are providing financial support to medical students who may serve rural communities. Oklahoma State University recently established a new group, Medical Cowboys, to provide undergraduate medical students financial assistance. Dr. Barry Pollard, the creator of and group leader for OSU Medical Cowboys' board, said the program should have a positive influence on the state's rural population. "I also feel a long-range goal [of Medical Cowboys] is to provide medical care to rural Oklahoma," he told The Enid News and Eagle. "It is a reality that physicians that go back to rural Oklahoma originally are from rural Oklahoma. We hope to provide health care back in their smaller communities. I really think that the program will help rural Oklahoma health care."

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