The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has received an additional $4.75 million in federal grant money to continue efforts to improve health care in rural Arkansas through training and retaining primary care physicians. A portion of the money will be used to advance a new three-year medical degree program.
The supplemental award from the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, comes in the third year of a four-year medical student education grant.
UAMS initially received $4.6 million in 2019, followed by an additional $2.83 million in 2020, to fund a multi-pronged approach to facilitating more primary care physicians in rural and underserved areas of Arkansas.
“This continued funding allows us to make further progress in addressing the physician shortage in Arkansas, particularly in rural areas, as part of our mission to improve the health of all Arkansans,” said Dr. Cam Patterson, UAMS chancellor and CEO.
Due to a growing physician shortage, the new funds will be used to support a new, accelerated M.D. program – the first in Arkansas – at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville, and to upgrade student education equipment on the main campus and at clinical training sites. Med students will be able to obtain a M.D. degree in three years versus four years.
The three-year track is for medical students who plan to specialize in primary care (family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology or pediatrics) and have the necessary credentials. The program began in July at the UAMS Fayetteville campus.
Arkansas is 47th in the nation in active physicians per 100,000 people. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, over one-fifth of Arkansans live in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). The Arkansas Department of Health says 50 out of 75 counties (67%) are fully or partially designated as HPSAs.
One-third of currently practicing primary care providers in the state are over the age of 60 and nearing retirement. By 2025, it is expected that Arkansas will be deficient by an estimated 590 primary care physicians.
“Completing all required goals and objectives to earn an M.D. degree in three years is extremely challenging,” said Linda Worley, M.D., associate regional dean of the UAMS College of Medicine at the Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. “These dedicated medical students begin their studies early and take few breaks. Clinical training begins in the first two weeks and continues throughout the entire three years. Shortening the training to three years instead of four saves students one quarter of the debt burden, ultimately launching them into clinical practice where we need them one year earlier.”