Rural Health Scholars Program offers students opportunity to learn in rural, underserved areas

On this National Rural Health Day, the Louisiana Department of Health celebrates the student health professionals learning what it’s like to practice medicine in underserved areas of the state through the Well-Ahead Louisiana Rural Health Scholars Program and encourages applications to the program.

Administered by Well-Ahead Louisiana within the LDH Office of Public Health (OPH), the Rural Health Scholars Program connects students from Louisiana colleges and universities pursuing Physician Assistant (PA) or Nursing (NP) training with healthcare institutions Areas of Health Skills Shortages (HPSAs). HPSAs are geographic areas, populations, and facilities with too few primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers or services. The 17 first-year grantees were placed at 14 health sites, including one with four sites:

  • Acadiana Pediatrics, Rayne
  • Common Ground Clinic, Gretna
  • CommuniHealth Services, Bastrop Children’s Center
  • Family First Medicine, Ruston
  • Family Healthcare by Loranger
  • Hood Memorial Hospital, Amite
  • Iberia Comprehensive Community Health Center, Lafayette
  • Lady of the Sea Medical Clinic, Larose
  • Southcare Medical Clinic, Abbeville
  • Southeast Parish Health System, Independence, Kentwood, Greensburg and Albany
  • St James Primary Care Clinic, Gramercy

Rural communities are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes and have less access to quality health care. In Louisiana, 73% of residents live in an area with a skills shortage.

“Although rural areas are vital to Louisiana, these areas are often underserved when it comes to health care. We are excited to continue expanding the Rural Health Scholars Program to ultimately reduce the percentage of people living in underserved areas and provide greater access to primary care for all Louisiana residents,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N Phillips. “This innovative program connects health students with rural health facilities, improves access to more Louisiana residents, and provides the next generation of health professionals with important experiences in serving rural communities.”

“We are proud of the rich heritage and diverse communities in our state,” said Melissa R. Martin, director of Well-Ahead Louisiana. “Through the Rural Health Scholars Program, we have the opportunity not only to show the impact that future health professionals can have in these rural communities, but also to share the many benefits of living in Louisiana.”

Serving the underserved

Students in the Rural Health Scholars Program complete 180 hours of clinical rotation over a 90-day period at a rural health facility. Participating students receive a scholarship and job placement assistance after graduation.

“I applied to the Rural Health Scholars Program to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to practice as a PA in a rural area,” said Brooke Hillman of Baton Rouge, a Rural Health Scholar from the Franciscan Missionaries of the Our Lady University (FranU). “Many people in rural areas do not have access to health care, and as a PA, I will have the opportunity to improve health care outcomes in my home state of Louisiana.”

Hillman is completing her clinical rotation at Southeast Community Health System’s Kentwood Clinic in the community of Tangipahoa.

“Family Healthcare of Loranger, LLC is proud to partner with the Rural Health Scholars Program. Our first student in the program, Audrey Tallis, is gaining a great deal of pediatric experience in this rural setting,” said Kimberly Manina, FNP-C, owner and operator of the Tangipahoa Community Clinic. “The Rural Health Scholars Program is badly needed in rural health care. Loranger, LLC Family Healthcare will continue to help fill the medical gap for underserved and rural areas in Louisiana.”

Tallis is a Student Nursing (NP) student at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO).

Investing in Louisiana

according to dr Leanne Fowler, Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing at LSUHSC New Orleans, this program is a worthy investment for the school’s and Louisiana’s NP students.

“Clinical internship for nursing students is a challenge for programs across the country. To maintain quality clinical education of NP students, clinical placement among the populations they will serve is necessary for their development, transition into the workforce, and trust in underserved communities,” said Dr. fowler “Supporting NP students with clinical internship and financial support during the most meaningful time in their development as NP is an investment that the citizens and communities of the state of Louisiana will make for years to come.”

“With the Louisiana Department of Health’s mission and FranU’s commitment to serving the community in areas of need, FranU’s Physician Assistant Program sees this as the perfect partnership. Having been named by BRAC as the premier provider of healthcare professionals in the metropolitan area, we are excited to expand our service reach into the rural parts of the state. We look forward to all we can serve through collaboration,” said Michael McIntosh, PA-C, DScPAs, Clinical Coordinator for the FranU Physician Assistant Program.

“I’m thrilled to see the Department making strides to provide areas with health workforce shortages the health care residents need and deserve. This program creates a wonderful opportunity to build partnerships between rural, underserved communities and higher education, while providing residents with more equal access to health care,” said State MP Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.

Well-Ahead Louisiana is the Division of Chronic Disease Prevention and Access to Health Care of the Louisiana Department of Health. Well-Ahead connects communities with tools and resources that help improve the health of Louisiana residents where they live, work, learn, play and pray. For more information visit www.wellaheadla.com.

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