Mississippi recruits homegrown doctors to cure shortage

In a state that ranks last in overall health care, politicians and doctors in Mississippi are implementing programs to handle a physician deficit.

A state-sponsored program provides scholarships to medical students for up to four years. As of April 2017, 11 doctors have graduated from the program and 25 more are expected to begin work this summer. The Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship program was created in 2007 with the goal of training homegrown physicians to provide care for those in small towns. 

Wahnee Sherman, the executive director of the scholarship said the program was modeled after a similar initiative in Alabama, but  noted that program does not have a scholarship component. The Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians and Mississippi State Medical Association were instrumental in lobbying the state to the cause.

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The Magnolia State has 102.3 primary care physicians (PCPs) per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 145.3 which is among the top three lowest rates in the nation, according to a report. Another contributing factor is the limited number of training facilities in the state. Mississippi has one major academic science and research center. A second medical college focused on osteopathic medicine opened in 2008.

Sherman noted that it takes quite some time to “grow” a doctor and hopes to see definitive results in the next couple of years.

A scholarship recipient could receive $30,000 per year for medical school but must be a resident of Mississippi and attend school in the state. After completing the program and graduating, the new doctors must commit to working in a rural area for each year they received the scholarship.

Laura Miller is one of the 11 doctors who have started working in rural Mississippi. She is a family physician in Crystal Springs, which is a town of about 5,000 residents according to U.S. Census data. Miller grew up in the area and wanted to work near her hometown as a family doctor.

“I knew from the beginning I was going to do family practice and planned to return to my hometown or close by,” Miller said. “So the program was perfect for me and I joined from the inaugural class.”

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