Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Rural Minority Student Engagement with a Healthcare Pipeline Program

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Rural Minority Student Engagement with a Healthcare Pipeline Program

Article excerpt

Rural communities are underserved by the medical profession. This shortage is particularly acute for minority rural communities lacking reliable access to minority healthcare professionals. This article reports the results of a study designed to understand the attitudes and responses of rural minority students who participated in a program designed to increase the number of rural physicians. Data were collected through interviews with students and program faculty as well as classroom observations and document analysis. Findings emphasized the importance of recognizing the needs of rural areas, networking between peers and rural professionals, understanding the steps required for receiving a medical degree, and acknowledging students' cultural capital related to rural communities. The article concludes with recommendations for educators focused on underrepresented student populations or specific community needs.

Over the past few decades increased attention has been given to the diversity of the nation's healthcare professionals. While numerous studies have emphasized a projected shortage of primary care and family practice doctors in the years to come (e.g., Prislin, Saultz, & Geyman, 2010), this scarcity is particularly acute for minority populations (Grumbach & Mendoza, 2008; Reede, 2003). A 2004 report by the National Academy of Science, for example, noted that Black, Hispanic, and Native American residents comprise over one-quarter of the U.S. population but constitute less than one-tenth of the nation's physicians. Adding to the complexity of a diverse workforce, fewer doctors live and work in rural areas when compared to more populated urban communities. Severe challenges to healthcare in America exist, and "rural areas often can be found to remain disproportionately disadvantaged" (Schmitz, Claiborne, & Rouhana, 2012, p. 2). Over half the regions with a federally designated doctor shortage are rural (Association of American Medical Colleges, 2012). These communities include underserved and vulnerable populations, such as the Alabama Black Belt region, the Mississippi Delta, the Appalachians, and the rural Midwest. Residents of these areas face higher than average rates of infant mortality, heart disease, and other illnesses (Eudy, 2009).

Colleges and universities have sought to alleviate the shortage of minority physicians, including those who live and practice in rural, underserved areas. To cultivate rural minority doctors, best educational practices identified by the American Academy of Family Physicians (2009) include a focus on students with rural backgrounds, an academic pipeline program, and the opportunity for residency training in rural settings. Among institutions that demonstrate these best practices is the University of Louisville School of Medicine, which offers a program where third-and fourth-year underrepresented medical students complete their training at a regional campus focused on rural practice. This program is one of numerous efforts offered through the University of Louisville Rural Scholars Initiative. The initiative starts after a student's junior year of high school and culminates in the opportunity to complete a rural residency (University of Louisville, 2012). Another best practice example is the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) at the University of Minnesota, Duluth School of Medicine. The RPAP recruits students from rural backgrounds, provides residency training in rural areas of the state, and focuses attention on the needs of minority populations, including Native Americans (Rabinowitz, Diamond, Markham, & Worton, 2008). At the University of Alabama, the College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) operates the nationally recognized Rural Minority Scholars Program as part of its Rural Health Leaders Pipeline initiative. The program provides intensive training for high-achieving minority students before their first year of college. In addition, the curriculum exemplifies the notion of the academic pipeline by offering continued support at key developmental transitions with the goal of increasing the number of minority students who successfully apply to medical school and return to practice in a rural community (CCHS, 2013). …

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