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January 2015
In this Issue

  • It’s Time to Encourage Students in Underserved Areas to Consider a Career in Medicine
    William A. McDade, MD
    ISMS President
    William A. McDade, MD, PhD

    I recently had the pleasure of appearing on RFD Radio, a radio network operated through the Illinois Farm Bureau.  The Illinois State Medical Society and the Farm Bureau have a 67-year partnership supporting the RIMSAP program, which assists qualified applicants to surmount barriers to a medical education, be it financial or academic.  In return, those students commit to working in rural areas once their education is complete. 

    RIMSAP is a critical cog for addressing medical workforce needs in rural areas, yet many regions in Illinois are designated as “underserved.”  Even the counties hosting our urban centers have segments of underserved communities.

    So how do we go about tackling this problem, which has been an issue since our baby boomer generation was first being born?

    Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) are but a few of the government entities seeking to address the needs of the underserved areas.

    Policy tools such as loan forgiveness and favorable visa status have also been used to bring doctors, at least temporarily, to underserved areas. Whether those physicians take root in those communities is an entirely different matter.

    An ISMS-supported study of where Illinois-trained physicians choose to practice after residency found that the pull of going home is strong, as many freshly minted doctors return to the town in which they attended high school.

    For this reason, we should start thinking about workforce policies that target high school and college students from rural and underserved areas to consider careers in medicine. 

    These types of policies are sometimes a tough sell, as a high school student placed on the path to medicine won’t be called “doctor” for another 10 years or so, leaving current health care needs unmet.  However, the longer we wait to tackle the needs of the underserved, the longer these patients will remain underserved. In other words, no action is certain defeat.

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