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Summer program sends students to med school
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When Ashley Harris was accepted into medical school this year, organizers of a summer program for high schoolers saw results they've been waiting on for five years.
Harris, 21, participated in the Rural Medical Scholars program at Mississippi State University in 1999. He is just eight hours short of a biochemistry degree at MSU, and begins medical school at University Medical Center in Jackson in August. He will earn his degree from MSU after his first year of medical school.
After three more years of medical school he will have his medical degree as a family practitioner and then will complete a three-year residency, likely either in Jackson or Tupelo. But he won't have to look for a job after that.
The Water Valley native already has one waiting for him.
Yalobusha County has just three family practitioners, and two of them are approaching retirement age. Officials were concerned that this shortage of practitioners one day would prevent area residents from receiving needed medical attention. They were concerned enough to recruit Harris to go to medical school.
"The Water Valley hospital offered me a contract to pay for my tuition, living expenses, books and everything while I was in medical school," Harris said. "Then I have to work there for three years."
Harris accepted the offer without hesitation.
"I've always felt like I wanted to work in a small-town, rural setting," he said.
Harris has been interested in a medical career for most of his life. The summer before his senior year in high school, he took part in the five-week Rural Medical Scholars program offered by the MSU Extension Service. It is funded by the Mississippi Rural Health Corps, a partnership between the MSU Extension Service and the state's 15 community and junior colleges.
He said his participation confirmed his decision to go into the medical field, and the firsthand experience it gave him was an asset on his application to medical school. He is working this summer as a counselor with the 2003 program participants.
"It's an excellent way for high school students to find out if medicine is what they want to do, and especially what kind of medicine they would like to go into," Harris said.
Bonnie Carew is program director for Rural Medical Scholars. She said the program was started in 1998 because Mississippi has the lowest number of physicians per capita of any state in the country.
"We have an extremely large need for family medical doctors in rural areas because of the breadth of their knowledge. They see people across all age ranges and with a variety of ailments," Carew said.
The program was designed to give academically advanced youth with an interest in medicine a firsthand view of what life as a medical doctor is like. In addition to shadowing physicians as they work, the young people are accepted into MSU and take college algebra and principles of zoology. They leave the program with a better knowledge of the life of a physician and seven hours of college credit if they pass the courses.
The program costs nothing more than the $35 registration fee, and accepts youth between their junior and senior years of high school. Students must have a minimum ACT of 25, high grades in high school and a desire to learn about medicine. Students must be nominated for the program by their local community college.
"We're hoping this program will eventually produce more family medicine physicians than would otherwise exist in the absence of the program," Carew said. "We've got to begin producing our next generation of physicians."
Eleven students from across the state are taking part in this year's Rural Medical Scholars program, and 107 have come through it to date.
Harris was the first of the program's graduates to be accepted into medical school, but he is not the only one. Chin Onwubiko from Stringer participated in the Scholars' first program in 1998 and was accepted into the University of Mississippi's seven-year combined M.D./Ph.D. program. Mac Nichols from Mantachie, another 1998 Scholar, will begin his studies in Kansas City, Mo., this fall to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine.
For more information about Rural Medical Scholars, visit http://www.rms.msucares.com or call Bonnie Carew at (662) 325-1321.