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Wicker championing legislation to create grant program for rural medical providers

Photo courtesy of Sen. Roger Wicker

Legislation has been introduced at the federal level to create a nationwide grant program to assist medical providers in rural areas of the country.

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, and Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, have crossed party lines to try to close the physician shortage in rural, underserved areas by increasing the number of community-based training opportunities for medical students in these regions.

Rural areas historically need more physicians, and research shows that those who train in these areas are more likely to stay and practice. However, only 20 percent of physician training happens in settings outside of academic hospitals.

“We must increase the available training opportunities for medical students in rural and underserved areas. My legislation would place medical students in rural areas so they can get exposure and experience. The hope is that through this exposure, medical students will stay in rural areas post-medical school. An added side effect is that this provides some relief to providers while medical students are training there. This is a win-win-win for everyone,” Wicker said.

The new grant program, formed under the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), would facilitate long-term, sustainable physician practices in high-need communities by preparing medical students to serve these communities after graduation. Grants would be awarded to eligible entity partnerships for a period of up to five years, and partners would be required to submit a plan for sustaining these clinical rotations after federal support subsides.

Community Health Centers serve more than 31 million patients at more than 14,000 locations in underserved areas nationally. Currently, CHCs provide training opportunities for nearly 10,000 medical students. Increasing the number of opportunities would prepare students to serve these vulnerable communities after graduation.

“When they train in the community environment, it enhances our ability exponentially to retain them in the community,” CEO of Community Health Center Association of Mississippi Terrance Shirley said.

Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, 65 are considered rural. The legislation would serve to help bridge the gap of physician shortages seen in poorer and less densely populated areas, such as the Delta. Assistance there would certainly be welcome as the state continues to battle an ongoing healthcare crisis.

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