Rural pipeline program receives national award

The College’s Rural Health Leaders Pipeline was recognized nationally with an Outstanding Rural Health Program Award from the National Rural Health Association.

The award will be presented May 9 at the NRHA’s 36th Annual Rural Health Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The pipeline is a sequence of programs designed to recruit students from rural areas in Alabama and help them prepare to become rural physicians and other needed health professionals. Hundreds of Alabama high school and college students have participated in the programs and are now practicing in rural Alabama communities. Studies show that rural students are more likely to return to rural areas to practice.

“The Rural Health Leaders Pipeline program personnel are delighted to have the NRHA’s validation of their work to engage rural students in the health professions,” says John Wheat, MD, MPH, founder and director of the pipeline. “After 20 years, the efforts are bearing fruit with rural health professionals, including more than 50 rural physicians, contributing to the health care, economic development and leadership in rural Alabama.”

The Rural Health Leaders Pipeline includes: the Rural Health Scholars Program,  a five-week summer program on The University of Alabama campus for 11th grade high school students who take college courses for credit, participate in seminars with practicing health care professionals and visit health care facilities; the Rural Minority Health Scholars Program, a five-week summer program on campus for high school graduates from rural Alabama who take classes and tutorials to enhance their knowledge and test-taking skills so that they can achieve competitive scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT); and the Rural Medical Scholars Program, a five-year track of medical studies leading to a medical degree that focuses on rural primary care and community medicine and gives students experience in rural settings through field trips, service programs and shadowing rural health professionals.

Of the 165 rural Alabama students who have entered the Rural Medical Scholars Program since its founding, more than 60 percent have completed their training and are practicing as primary care physicians in rural communities in Alabama.

The pipeline also has outreach programs for 10th grade students in rural Alabama counties.

The NRHA is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health and well-being of rural Americans and provide leadership on rural health issues through advocacy, communications, education and research. NRHA membership is made up of 22,000 diverse individual organizations that share an interest in rural health.