Thoughts on the Rural Physician Scholars Program

Published 3:31 pm Friday, June 24, 2011

The Mississippi Legislature is making a solid investment in health care with the Rural Physician Scholars Program.

For the past four years, the Legislature has pumped $3 million into the program, while most agencies saw spending cuts.

“It’s an investment the state’s making,” program director Janie Guice told The Clarion-Ledger.

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She carries a state map that identifies where all the students will end up when they finish — more than 80 future doctors in areas without physicians.

Students get $30,000 a year; agreeing to work a year in a rural area for each year of funding.

It also provides programs to high school and college students from rural areas who are interested in the medical field.

Beth Embry, executive director of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians, said the group recognized the need and lobbied lawmakers for the program, modeled after a similar one in Alabama.

Since then, Mississippi has been seen as a model for other states addressing a growing shortage in primary care doctors.

Mississippi’s physician shortage goes back for more than a decade. A study by the Mississippi Health Policy Research Center, showed:

— Nationally, there were three doctors to every 1,000 residents; however, in Mississippi, there are only two to every 1,000 residents.

— Mississippi physicians were not evenly distributed relative to the population, which produced gaps in access to physician care. More than half (56 percent) of all Mississippi physicians were located in four urban areas, leaving 51 of 82 counties underserved.

As the Rural Physician Scholars Program begins to fill in these gaps, health care demographics should improve in Mississippi.

Meantime, the state should investigate other issues that could promote retention of physicians, as well as helping promote nurse practitioner care, and wellness.

Disease prevention can help meet state health care needs.