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Students prepare for rural medical needs
By Jeanie Davidson
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's increasing need for doctors has spurred an opportunity for local students to prepare themselves for careers in the medical field.
"With one out of five doctors in Mississippi approaching retirement age, the state's need for doctors will only escalate," said Bonnie Carew, rural health policy coordinator for Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
As the state with the fewest doctors per capita, almost half of Mississippi's population does not have access to a primary care provider. To help with this shortage and to keep future medical experts close to home, the Mississippi Rural Health Corps, a collaboration of the state's junior and community colleges and MSU's Extension Service, launched an intense summer learning program for interested students.
For six weeks each summer, high school students can preview college life by attending zoology and college algebra classes while living in MSU residence halls. In addition to earning credits in those classes, students observe physicians in clinics and hospitals in Starkville, West Point, Tupelo and Columbus. Doctors provide an integral part of the learning experience by volunteering to let students see what they do on typical workdays.
"Without the experience of shadowing, it could be eight years before students know what their future careers will be like," Carew said.
Frequently, the shadowing aspect of the Rural Medical Scholars program is what students remember and benefit from the most. By getting a jumpstart on college classes, students with aspirations of joining the medical field also leave the program better prepared for higher education.
"Some people who had no problems in high school assume college will be a breeze, until that first class. Those classes gave me a chance to see just how hard I was going to have to work to get the grades I wanted," said 20-year-old Ellelean Bridges, a senior microbiology major at MSU. "It helps serious students start their decision-making process early."
The first-year veteran of the Rural Medical Scholars program said that participating helped to make her more competitive. In a field where competition is key, premedical students who participate in the summer program can have a major advantage over other prospective students.
"This is a missed opportunity for any student who doesn't know about the Rural Medical Scholars Program," Carew said. "It could have a major impact on the student's life and the state."
Almost 100 students have taken advantage of the program since it began in 1998 and it continues to gain in popularity. The cost is only $35, but the six-week experience could be invaluable. Admission requirements include a composite score of at least 25 on the ACT, completion of the junior year in high school, residence in Mississippi and a desire to learn about the field of medicine. For more information, go to http://www.RMS.msucares.com or contact a local community college.