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UNC School of Medicine Receives Endowment for Rural Health Program

The University of North Carolina's School of Medicine will receive $3 million from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust to support a program that places medical students in rural parts of the state.

The Kenan Primary Care Medical Scholars Program, which launched in 2013, provides financial support and field experience to students at UNC's School of Medicine who are interested in working in rural, underserved communities. During the third and fourth year of medical school, those students attend classes at the school's Asheville campus in rural western North Carolina and are mentored by rural physicians.

Geoff Jones, the clinical co-director of the program, said in a press release that the program aims to increase the percentage of physicians who live and work in rural areas.

"There is very good evidence that exposing medical students to rural health careers during their education increases the likelihood that they will choose to practice in a small community," Jones said. "Medical schools with rural health programs will play a key role in supplying the rural workforce of the future."

Nationwide, rural areas often struggle to attract physicians. One recent study of more than 750 graduate medical schools found that less than 5 percent of graduates practiced in a rural area after graduation. Research shows that rural children are more likely than their urban peers to suffer from ailments like obesity, asthma, or diabetes, which can affect their academic achievement.

Several other medical and dental schools have programs similar to UNC's. Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky's College of Dentistry launched a program in 2011 that trains dentists to practice in rural areas. That program recently received a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Western Carolina University's School of Nursing recently received a federal grant to create a nursing program that will train students for careers in rural areas. In Missouri, a new law will allow medical schools graduates to bypass residency programs and work as assistant physicians in rural areas in an attempt to fill a shortage of rural doctors in the state. 

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