This initiative aims to reduce health disparities through talent recruitment

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A new initiative by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences aims to recruit and graduate medical students from Oklahoma’s underserved communities to reduce health disparities across the state.

OU will receive $16 million over four years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to recruit medical students from tribal, rural, and underserved communities and help these students practice medicine at home. The goal is to make it possible. community.

Oklahoma’s Pathways to Tribal, Rural, and Underserved Communities Program (TRU-OK) is a collaboration between the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine on the OU Health Sciences Campus in Oklahoma City and the OU-TU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa. It is jointly operated with.

Mary Gowin, associate professor of family medicine and preventive medicine at the OU School of Medicine, said the grant will help fill a critical staffing shortage in the state’s primary care medical services, adding that the retirement of physicians will lead to a decline in medical school faculty. He said it is progressing faster than replenishment. Project researcher.

“We need to get more people interested in (primary care practices) to address the leaky pipeline,” Gowin said. “What we’re trying to do is follow what the evidence shows.”

When medical school graduates return to their hometowns, they immediately gain respect and trust. “And they understand the community and how people live their lives. They’re more likely to be even more successful in the practice and stay there.”

Patient outcomes are also improving, said co-investigator Francis K. Wen, professor and director of family and community medicine research at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa.

“There is a deeper understanding and approach to medicine that strengthens the doctor-patient relationship,” Wen said.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, approximately 95% of the state will be designated as a primary care health professional shortage area by 2022.

Wen said that rural and tribal communities, as well as some urban areas, are underserved because all health care is concentrated in a small number of hospitals and health systems.

The lack of access to quality primary care is reflected in Oklahoma’s health rankings. According to the United Health Foundation’s 2022 Oklahoma State Annual Report, the state ranks poorly in access to clinical care (49th), utilization of preventive services (49th), quality of care (48th) and dedicated health care. provider presence (42nd), preventable hospitalization (42nd).

A wide partner network is key to the TRU-OK project.

The team collaborates with academic, tribal, and hospital partners to expand opportunities for students to gain experience in primary care, social determinants of health, vulnerable populations, and trauma-informed care. Opportunities for rotations, clerkships, and elective courses in underserved areas are also expanding. Areas throughout Oklahoma.

Clinical rotations in small communities can also be beneficial for urban medical students, who can experience a different lifestyle and may want to practice primary care in a rural setting, Gowin said. .

Wen said evidence shows that students interested in primary care who are trained in the state tend to stay here.

“This is another reason why our partnership is so important,” Gowin said. “We already work closely with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, Hillcrest Healthcare Systems, and Jackson County Memorial Hospital, and we look forward to continuing and expanding these relationships. is.”

The new partners are Integris Health, SSM Health, Variety Care, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and Langston University.

Another key is addressing the barriers students face when entering medical school. The initiative will create an online pre-medical school program that provides students with a wide range of tools and resources to support their admission to medical school, including study materials and interview preparation resources.

“Some of our students are first-generation college students who come from tribal, rural, and underserved communities, making it that much more difficult for them to consider entering the health professions,” Wen said. said. Providing medical students as mentors is one of the ways the program supports medical students.

The project also provides scholarship and stipend support for primary care research experiences and travel to primary care conferences.

“We’re not just increasing access to primary care,” Gowin said. “We want to create access to quality primary care.”

A participant practices removing a cast under supervision during the 2022-23 Club Scrub program for high school students at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine.  (Photo provided)
A participant practices removing a cast under supervision during the 2022-23 Club Scrub program for high school students at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. (Photo provided)

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