Jennifer Marcellus has spent the past seven years working toward becoming a doctor so that, one day, she can be one in her hometown of Branson.
Marcellus, who graduates next month from MU’s School of Medicine, is a Bryant scholar. She was identified as a student at a rural high school and encouraged to apply for early admission into the school’s rural track program, which recruits, trains and places medical students in small Missouri communities.
“(It) helped me be more prepared in practicing rural medicine and making sure I knew that when I went on my own,” said Marcellus, who plans to spend the next three years doing her residency in Springfield.
On Tuesday, the Medical School announced it had received a $955,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to be used to expand the school’s rural track program. The expansion will add training sites in rural Missouri, expand current training sites and allow the program to admit five more students, for a total of 15, to its Bryant Scholars Pre-admission Program.
The program admits students as early as their freshman year of college at any Missouri university. Students in the program then attend conferences twice a year and keep in touch with MU. Between the first and second years of medical school, the students work with a community physician and, in their third year, complete their clerkship in a rural community.
The Bryant program is just one part of the rural track program. The medical school part of the rural track program is open to anyone and can be joined at any point in a medical students’ training career.
Marcellus said the program worked for her because she came from a rural community and was interested in going back to one after she finished medical school.
Weldon Webb, director of rural health programs for the MU School of Medicine, said the goal is to increase the access to health care in rural areas.
“A lot of people have to go 40 to 50 miles for health care,” he said. “We’ll be putting (the training centers) in central locations.”
Webb said he looked at other universities with similar programs to work toward developing the program.
With the grant, the rural track program will expand sites in East Prairie and Sikeston and develop southwest Missouri sites in Monett, Joplin, Neosho, Mount Vernon and Aurora, in addition to established sites in Rolla, St. Joseph and Poplar Bluff.
Marcellus said a program in southern Missouri would have been great for her.
“I would’ve gone over there and worked there to get a better feel of what medicine over there was like,” she said.
The award also allowed the program to hire project director Kathy Brown, who will help match graduating students with rural communities. Brown will look at the size, number of physicians, number of patients a day and community profiles of a rural area to help set up the matches and bridge the gap of medically underserved rural communities.
Webb said he had not seen the results of the training program in rural areas during its 11-year history because its first students are now in the final stages of the program. The 11 years are made up of four years of undergraduate work, four years of medical school and a three-year residency period.
“It’s just too early to tell,” he said. “In five or six years, we’ll have a good feel of how this is working.”