Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Rural Health

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By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising

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As we all know, Franklin & Marshall inhabits a world that is both urban and rural, and the contrast can be striking.  The city is a mix of people, cultures, sights, sounds, even smells.  Drive no more than a few minutes in any direction, however, and everything changes.  It’s still a mix of people, cultures, sights, sounds, and smells, but all are thoroughly rural.  The country spreads out before you like a big green blanket.  OK, maybe it’s not green quite yet, but today is the first day of spring, so the green is coming.  Silos stand like castle turrets, watchful and waiting; the landscape is open fields one second, tangled forest the next; and we share the road with eighteen-wheelers and buggies alike. 

It is this rural environment I’d like to focus on for a moment.  A good number of F&M students don’t just pass through the countryside on their way from the city of Lancaster to another city or suburb.  Some come from a rural setting, and plan on returning there after college.  For pre-health students specifically, the goal of going home to practice medicine in a rural setting is generally met with a welcoming “hurrah!” by people in the medical field, primarily because rural communities need doctors.  The impending physician shortage predicted by the AAMC and others will affect our country’s less populated areas most of all, if it hasn’t already.  A good recent article on the challenges and rewards of one doctor in rural Georgia makes the point that, while not everyone is cut out for rural medicine, those who are should understand that they are needed desperately.  If you want to help people, you definitely will as a country doctor.  Rural physicians play central roles in their communities and in the individual lives of their patients, and the sense of reward they get from their work is beyond measure.  See “The Country Doctor Is In.”

I should point out that the doctor profiled in the above article did not come from a rural background, actually.  He grew up in an Army family and lived all over the world before attending medical school.  The desire to do rural health can come from anywhere.  If you are interested, no matter what your roots are, I recommend you start with the National Rural Health Association.   The student membership costs $11 (enter “Bachelor’s” as your program and “Pre-med” as your field of study).  Spending some time on the NRHA website will teach you about the career and networking opportunities for rural physicians, as well as the potential obstacles.  The NRHA also recommends you join our state association, such as the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association (the NRHA will link you to all of the state groups).  

You should also know about the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which is a potential source of funding for your medical education if your interest is rural health.  The NHSC was established in 1972 in order to provide primary health care programs to underserved populations, as designated by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  They have a loan repayment program for medical school.  In return for agreeing to provide primary health services in NHSC community sites (many are rural), the NHSC assists clinicians in repaying educational loans.  “For medical and dental students oriented toward this type of service, there are also scholarships, residency opportunities, and ‘ambassadorships’ available in conjunction with the NHSC,” reads their website.

Lastly, you should be aware of an opportunity available to you as an F&M Diplomat.  We are fortunate to have an agreement with Jefferson Medical College’s Physician Shortage Area Program (PSAP), “an admission and educational program designed to increase the supply and retention of physicians in rural areas and small towns, especially in Pennsylvania and Delaware.”  When you apply to medical school, if you are interested in rural health, I strongly urge you to apply to Jefferson through this unique cooperative program.  Your application will be given special attention coming from F&M.  You will also receive your medical education at a school committed to rural health, affording you a strong place to start your career as a country doctor.  As a graduate of Jefferson’s PSAP, who was from a small western Pennsylvania town, says, "Growing up in Brockway, I watched my father get to know his patients as people, by really sharing in their lives . . .  I knew that I wanted to return to this atmosphere and practice medicine in much the same way.  The PSAP gave me the training I needed to care for people."  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask me about the Jefferson-F&M agreement. 

Now get out there in the country and enjoy the arrival of spring!

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