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College program seeks to address rural doctor shortage

Students who participated in the University of Missouri's Community Integration Program reported better understanding community health needs and the impact of rural physicians.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 14, 2016 at 4:06 PM

COLUMBIA, Mo., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Predictions in the early 2000s about a nationwide doctor shortage due to aging, a drought in new doctors, and expanding demand for care being worse in rural areas of the United States came true, leading to many universities starting programs to address the issue.

The University of Missouri started a program in 2006 to address the shortage in 97 of 101 counties in the state, reporting in a new study that the Community Integration Program appears to have addressed some of the problem.

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About 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas, with less than 3 percent planning to practice in a rural community or small town, according to Jana Porter, associate director Area Health Education Center and Rural Track Pipeline Program at the University of Missouri.

"We developed the Community Integration Program in 2006 as part of our pipeline program to further encourage students to practice in rural settings after they graduate," Porter said in a press release. "We wanted to better understand what the students' experiences were with this service learning program, and if it might affect their decision to practice in a rural community."

From 2007 to 2013, 53 percent of students participated in the program, with 86 percent completing an 11-item post-experience questionnaire, according to the study, published in the journal Medical Teacher.

The students reported they felt more integrated into communities, had a greater understanding of community health needs and resources, and were more likely to be involved in community service as a result of the program.

"The more we are able to immerse students into settings where they have deeper, more meaningful interactions with their patients, the better they will understand the impact they can make as physicians," Porter said. "For those who already show an interest in serving a rural population, this program reaffirms that choice. However, if we can expand it to include those who would like to try the experience, we may attract additional students."

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