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Rural Medical Scholars: prescription for success

STARKVILLE — There is a program in Mississippi helping high school students answer the question, “Do I want to be a doctor?”

Rural Medical Scholars is a five-week summer program at Mississippi State University offered through the Mississippi Rural Health Corps that gives eligible students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in medicine. Except for a small registration fee, scholars receive free tuition, textbooks, housing and a food allowance.

The program is a partnership between MSU’s Extension Service and the state’s 15 community and junior colleges. It allows participants to earn seven hours of college credit, spend time with physicians in clinical settings and tour the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Study skills workshops, social activities and dormitory living make for a balanced college experience for the scholars.

To help recruit applicants, community and junior colleges promote the program to high schools in their districts. Students must have a composite ACT score of at least 25, above average grades and be ready to enter their senior year to be eligible to apply for the program.

To date, 194 scholars have finished the program that began in 1998. Fifteen of these scholars are now in medical school. Many others have chosen other healthcare careers such as nursing, veterinary medicine or physical therapy.

“These numbers are evidence of the success of the RMS program,” said Bonnie Carew, Extension rural health program leader and RMS director. “We are helping some of the best students in our state decide on careers in medicine.”

Mississippi’s healthcare system is facing serious challenges and desperately needs to attract young people into medical careers. “High rates of chronic illness, difficulties in access to services and higher healthcare costs continue to take a toll on our healthcare system,” said Ann Sansing, Extension community health coordinator and RMS assistant director.

One fact points to the seriousness of the overall state of our residents’ health.

“More people in Mississippi, per capita, develop potentially fatal diseases than elsewhere in the country,” Carew said. “And when they do get sick, it’s more difficult for them to secure the care they need.”

The difficulties in accessing healthcare services can be attributed to Mississippi’s shortage of doctors and other healthcare providers.

“The national physician rate is 281 doctors per 100,000 people, while Mississippi’s rate is only 182 physicians per 100,000 people,” Carew said. “Encouraging students to become doctors who practice medicine in Mississippi is important to the overall quality of our healthcare system.”
Josh Roark from Biloxi is a senior biological engineering major at MSU who served as a RMS counselor for the 2006 class. He graduated from the program in 2002 and attributes his participation in RMS to his decision to apply to medical school.

“The combination of job shadowing experience and the chance to earn college credit at the same time was very beneficial,” he said. “I was a little hesitant at first to give up my summer, but the experience was certainly worth it.”

For more information about RMS, contact Carew at (662) 325-1321 or visit http://www.rms.msucares.com.

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