Grant Helps Mississippi Medical Students Work In Rural Areas

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — University of Mississippi Medical Center officials say they are seeing an impact from a multimillion dollar grant that aims to get more doctors working in rural areas.

In July, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration awarded the UMMC medical school the first $1.9 million of a grant that is worth at least $7.6 million. In addition, the school is eligible for an extra $5 million at the end of the first year.

IMPACT, the RACE Rural Track Program, covers funding for more medical students to get clinical training in rural areas. They can now spend a large portion of clinical training in places like UMMC Grenada or Magnolia Regional Hospital in Corinth.

Dr. Sheree Melton, assistant professor of family medicine and clerkship director for the Department of Family Medicine at UMMC, said in a medical center news release that some students are training in rural hospital systems and then signing contracts to work there after graduation.

“They’ve agreed to come back there and practice for a certain number of years once they’ve finished their residency training," Melton said. "They already have a job before they graduate from medical school.”

Weston Eldridge, a fourth-year medical student, is one of those students. Eldridge has signed a contract to practice medicine in Winston County.

“We did wellness exams at this elementary school – a lot of bellyaches and earaches,” Eldridge said in the news release. “Sometimes it was just little children who needed to be loved on. I had such a great day.”

More than half of Mississippi’s residents live in rural areas, according to the federal government. Eighty of the state's 82 counties are medically underserved, and 94% of the counties have shortages of primary care physicians, including those who practice family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology and geriatric medicine.