Pennsylvania AHEC Program Director Dr. Ben Fredrick told state legislators and their staff that we need four times the number of medical students from rural Pennsylvania to address widespread rural primary care physician shortages and rural health disparities.
Dr. Fredrick delineated Pennsylvania’s rural health care workforce challenges and possible solutions during a Sept. 6 legislative briefing organized by the Pennsylvania Rural Health Association and sponsored by state Sen. Michele Brooks and state Rep. Kathy Rapp.
He explained that rural students apply to medical school at lower rates than their urban or suburban counterparts, that there is a lack of clinical and community experiences in rural areas for health professional students, and that Pennsylvania struggles to retain medical school and residency program graduates compared to other states.
He suggested one solution is growing our own rural primary care workforce through intersectoral collaboration on recruitment, training, and retention of promising rural students. Specific strategies include identifying and supporting students with an interest in primary care in high school and college, giving them more opportunities to learn and train in rural communities, and offering them scholarships, loan repayment programs, and other financial incentives to return home to practice.