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Health program focuses on rural care

UM works to increase the number of medical professionals.
Sunday, October 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:35 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

The U.S. is experiencing a shortage of health care professionals, but help is on the way, according to a report from the UM System Health Care Task Force.

Steve Graham, the system’s associate vice president for academic affairs, presented the report Friday to the Board of Curators at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Graham told curators that, although significant gaps still exist, the university’s programs are helping increase the number of medical professionals in the state.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Graham said. “The university is doing a lot of things.”

The MU School of Medicine has been focusing on research in rural health. According to the report, MU’s medical school maintains training sites in St. Joseph and Poplar Bluff. The two towns were chosen because they are large enough to support regional hospitals.

Among the trends that make this important, Graham said, are a population increase across the country and a large number of retiring rural doctors. Combined with Missouri’s comparatively large number of residents over the age of 65, those trends could make the problem worse in the coming years, he said.

Meanwhile, the UMKC School of Medicine is dealing with the health care needs of urban areas. The school has been recruiting heavily in area high schools, said Dean Betty Drees. The school offers pipeline programs to guide interested high school students into the medical profession. The program includes weekend seminars during the school year and in the summer.

Because the campuses concentrate on serving the demographics of their areas, they produce medical professionals who are able to specialize in a particular region.

This could help solve the problem of unequal distribution of doctors and dentists, which, Graham said, could help provide younger doctors to replace retiring physicians in rural areas.

The report says that in order to train health care professionals for the future, Missouri universities must tailor their curriculums to meet the needs of today. They also must keep an open dialogue with doctors in the field.

Curator John Carnahan said if the UM System hopes to help solve the doctor shortage in the U.S., it must maintain the programs for a long period of time.

“My concern is that we need to follow through,” Carnahan said. “I would hope that we would just make the commitment a ten-year commitment.”


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