WVU a Leader in Graduating Rural Health Physicians
Rural Health Fair for Students is Jan. 18

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Thirty percent of recent West Virginia University School of Medicine graduates practice in U.S. rural communities, according to a report from the University of Nebraska.

The analysis, conducted by University of Nebraska assistant professor Robert Bowman, M.D., ranks WVU fourth among medical schools worldwide in percentage of graduates who choose to serve rural communities in the U.S.; the school ranks 17th among medical schools in the total number of graduates who practice in rural areas.

"While we should be encouraged by this trend, we need to stay focused on the strategies that contribute to this success, said Hilda R. Heady, president of the National Rural Health Association, executive director of the West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnerships (RHEP), and associate vice-president for rural health at WVU. “Our legislature had the foresight in 1991 to challenge our medical schools to revise their curriculum and to partner with rural communities to increase the number and quality of providers in practice in rural areas of our state. Since that time our medical schools and state agencies have combined rural rotations with financial incentives and added more rural health content to our health sciences programs.

“We are pleased that two sources outside the state have noted the success of all three of our medical schools – US News and World Report and now the University of Nebraska Medical Center."

The Nebraska data, which includes medical graduates from 1987 forward, supports WVU’s own research findings. From 1999 to 2004, West Virginia had an 88-percent increase in the number of physicians in rural practice who participated in the RHEP program – a 13.4-percent annual rate of increase of rural physicians who are RHEP graduates for these six years.

“West Virginia's three medical schools have impressive performance regarding distribution of physicians, a problem that has plagued the nation for many decades,” said Bowman. “From my research, the graduation of physicians that will distribute takes a teamwork approach. This involves state leaders who have developed a partnership between the citizens of the state, the schools, and higher education. Finally it takes dedicated medical school leaders to select and train those who will serve, those who have people skills equal or better than their academic skills. The consistent high rankings of the West Virginia schools regarding graduation of the physicians most needed in the nation are a great measure of the quality of the state itself.”

“Fifteen years ago WVU was ranked in the bottom quarter of medical schools in the percent of graduates who entered primary care,” said Robert M. D’Alessandri, M.D., WVU’s vice president for health sciences. “West Virginia had a serious lack of rural health care providers. WVU took on the challenge and through the RHEP program we have worked hard to encourage our graduates to live and work in our rural communities.”

One example of how health sciences students in West Virginia are introduced to rural health practices is through WVU’s Rural Health Fair. This year, the fair will be held from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Jan.18, in the student lounge on the ground floor of Health Sciences Center. During the event, representatives from West Virginia training sites will share information with students to help them make their selections of sites for their rural rotations.

Students will also observe and participate in a mock interdisciplinary case management session conducted by rural field faculty in the HSC Auditorium from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. This session gives students a brief orientation to the weekly interdisciplinary case based session held at their rural training sites as part of the rural health curriculum. Students are engaged in evidence-based medicine and community service learning as well, while on their rural rotations.

For more information on the RHEP program, visit
www.wvrhep.org. To view the University of Nebraska’s complete list of rankings, visit www.unmc.edu/Community/ruralmeded/rank_rural_physicians_percent.htm.

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
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