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Abby Matthews of Summit listens to Debra Ann Breazeale's heartbeat on June 5, 2012, as Starkville pediatrician Dr. Deborah Shirley oversees. Matthews is participating in the five-week Rural Medical Scholars program at Mississippi State University. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence)

MSU program recruits future medical experts

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE – In response to the growing problem of too few doctors to serve the population, 14 years ago Mississippi State University created a plan to motivate bright high schoolers to give medicine a closer look.

MSU launched Rural Medical Scholars in 1998 for the single purpose of directing more of the state’s best and highest-performing students into medical careers. That means the 20 high school students currently in the five-week program have spent the summer seriously considering a future in medicine.

Bonnie Carew, MSU Extension Service rural health program leader and Rural Medical Scholars coordinator, said the program meets a critical need in the state: Mississippi has the second-lowest number of physicians per capita in the nation.

“Almost half of all Mississippians do not have access to a primary-care physician, and 56 percent of the state’s primary-care physicians practice in only four counties,” Carew said. “Our numbers show we are doing a pretty good job of encouraging young people to consider careers in medicine in Mississippi.

“We have had 296 high school students participate since this program began, and about 72 percent of them are either headed to health-related careers or working in the medical field,” she said.

Each year, about 20 academically gifted rising high school seniors attend the program. They live at MSU in residence halls and take biology and precalculus. They earn seven college credit hours, visit the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and observe area physicians at work. Students pay only for their food.

“The experience gives them invaluable input as they make decisions about their future career paths,” Carew said.

Abby Matthews, a 17-year-old from Summit and the daughter of Alan and Michelle Matthews, is a rural medical scholar this summer. For about a year, she has been considering becoming a physician. She thought this opportunity would give her a preview of life as a college student.

“I had to skip other camps and trips I had planned for June, but Rural Medical Scholars is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Matthews said. “Between the college credits and getting to shadow physicians, there’s no way I could pass it up.”

Matthews came to campus wondering if her love of working with others and her love of biology could be combined in a satisfying career in medicine, specifically pediatrics.

“The program has gone above and beyond what I expected,” Matthews said. “By shadowing physicians, I have received valuable information that will help me when making future decisions about my college and career.

“I have also had the opportunity to meet teenagers who share the same interests that I have,” she said.

The Rural Medical Scholars gives many participants the push they need to finalize their decision that a career in medicine is the right choice for them.

“I’ve shadowed three physicians, and each has had something new to teach me,” Matthews said. “I think my favorite experience was shadowing Dr. Deborah Shirley [a Starkville pediatrician]. I got to see first-hand what a day in the life of a pediatrician was like. I am more excited than ever to begin my journey into the world of medicine.”

Carew said the program has been offered annually since its inception in 1998, except for 2007-2009 when funding was lost. She secured grant funding to reinstate the program in 2010. This year’s funding comes from the State Office of Rural Health at the Mississippi Department of Health, the Mississippi Area Health Education Center and MSU.

Released: June 28, 2012
Photos for publication (click for high resolution image):
  • Abby Matthews of Summit listens to Debra Ann Breazeale's heartbeat on June 5, 2012, as Starkville pediatrician Dr. Deborah Shirley oversees. Matthews is participating in the five-week Rural Medical Scholars program at Mississippi State University. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence)
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