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MU Expands Rural Training Program for Future Physicians


Students will receive hands-on instruction at new sites in Lebanon, West Plains and Maryville

With a shortage of physicians and an aging population, rural Missouri needs more doctors. Meanwhile, students at the University of Missouri School of Medicine benefit from increased opportunities for hands-on clinical instruction. In August, three new training sites will help provide opportunities for students to train in rural areas while increasing the likelihood they might later return to serve rural Missouri communities.

Through MU Area Health Education Center (AHEC) rural track clerkships, 21 MU medical students will travel to communities across Missouri for up to six months of clinical training this year. The network of rural health education centers is using the one-time state funding awarded in 2009 to help with the startup costs of launching medical student training sites in Lebanon, West Plains and Maryville. Funding helped establish student housing, equipped the rural sites with technology to remotely connect students with medical school instructors in Columbia, and extended the AHEC network of community-based faculty members.

"We're always growing and expanding to meet students' training needs," said Kathleen Quinn, PhD, AHEC director. "The students will be placed with area physicians so they can experience what rural community-based medicine is like. As the students' mentors, the physicians will provide opportunities for personal and professional development that enhance the other traditional, on-site educational experiences."

AHEC offices in St. Joseph, Rolla, Poplar Bluff and Springfield provide the links between the students and the physicians. The offices schedule the physicians with the students, coordinate necessary paperwork, provide housing and didactic resources, and work with community members to provide service-learning opportunities to students that also address needs within the communities. The goal of the regional education centers is to improve the supply and distribution of health care providers, particularly primary-care providers, in underserved areas.

"Community health systems and local AHEC offices across the state are very supportive of students coming to train in rural areas," Quinn said. "It's very much an academic-community partnership."

The rural track program at the medical school also includes two other components that target pre-med students and advancing first-year medical students. The Bryant Scholars Pre-Admission Program is designed to attract the brightest rural students from Missouri colleges to MU's School of Medicine. The Summer Community Program allows students to spend the summer between their first and second years of medical school gaining clinical and research experience in small towns and cities. The final component of the pipeline is Missouri Physician Placement Service, which helps to match physicians who want to practice in Missouri with communities looking for doctors.

The programs are coordinated by the MU Area Health Education Center, and are funded by the MU School of Medicine, a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant, and the regional health systems.

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