The Rural Medical Scholars Program was founded in 1996 to address the shortage of primary care physicians in Alabama’s rural communities. The program works to recruit and assist rural Alabama college students who want to become physicians and practice in the state’s rural communities, where they are most needed.
On average, 11 students are admitted to this highly selective five-year medical education program of The University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. The Rural Medical Scholars Program includes a year of study, after students receive their undergraduate degree, that leads to a master’s degree in Rural Community Health and early admission to the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. Undergraduates may qualify after their junior year if they have met most of the requirements for their undergraduate major. In the year prior to entry into medical school, students take coursework related to rural health and the practice of primary care in rural areas, and participate in special seminars, field trips and community service programs.
Provided students meet the entrance requirements for admission to the Heersink School of Medicine and they perform well in the pre-matriculation year, they have a slot reserved in the following year’s class. After two years of study at the Heersink School of Medicine campus in Birmingham, Rural Medical Scholars return to the UA College of Community Health Sciences, which also functions as the Heersink School of Medicine’s Tuscaloosa Regional Campus, for their third and fourth years of clinical education.
Since its founding in 1996, more than 200 students have participated in the Rural Medical Scholars Program, and 126 have completed medical school and residency. Of those, the vast majority practice in Alabama, in mostly rural areas, and 65% are primary care physicians.