In celebration of National Rural Health Day, yesterday the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid in Kentucky announced new scholarship opportunities for UK’s Rural Physician Leadership Program (RPLP). The Anthem Rural Medicine Scholarships will provide $100,000 to offset the cost of medical school for students in the RPLP.
In a state that suffers from high rates for many chronic, preventable diseases, increasing the number of physicians practicing medicine in rural areas is crucial, says UK College of Medicine Dean Charles “Chipper” Griffith III, MD.
“This generous gift will equip more mission-driven students with the training to become doctors who can fulfill vital health care needs in rural communities,” Griffith said. “The College of Medicine is incredibly grateful for Anthem’s commitment to enhancing health care access and allowing more students to fulfill their dreams.”
The Anthem Rural Medicine Scholarships will comprise seven awards totaling $100,000. These scholarships will be awarded over the next four years to fourth-year RPLP students who have a demonstrated financial need and intend to practice medicine in a rural area upon completion of their residency. This funding represents an investment in the future of rural health care in Kentucky, says Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid in Kentucky President Leon Lamoreaux.
“Anthem Medicaid is committed to closing the gap in health disparities and supporting Kentucky’s workforce through the implementation of innovative solutions that can reinvent health care across the state,” said Lamoreaux. “We are proud of this partnership with the University of Kentucky to expand support for students pursuing health care education. This effort helps guarantee the availability of high-quality care in every corner of the state, particularly in our rural and underserved communities where the need is most pronounced.”
Developed jointly by the UK College of Medicine, Morehead State University and St. Claire HealthCare, the Rural Physician Leadership Program was UK’s first foray into a regional-style medical campus. The program was developed to train students who are interested in practicing rural medicine after graduating, and the program has capacity for up to 12 students per year.
“As an educator myself, I am truly excited by this groundbreaking partnership between Anthem Medicaid and the University of Kentucky,” said Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “Our Commonwealth is in desperate need of new health care heroes — especially in rural communities — and education is the key to providing Kentuckians with transformational change.”
RPLP students complete their first two years of education on UK’s main campus in Lexington and spend years three and four in Morehead, rotating through St. Claire HealthCare and other rural clinical sites in the area.
The RPLP has been highly successful since its launch more than 10 years ago. Currently, the RPLP has graduated 110 physicians well-versed in rural medicine, with half of them going into primary care residencies: internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine.
In Kentucky, 61% of the greatest physician needs are in rural areas. Of all the RPLP graduates, 46 are currently practicing rural medicine; 35 of those specifically in Kentucky. Many of the students in this program come from rural, underserved areas, and have a strong desire to make a difference in communities that need greater health care access. The RPLP gives these students the perfect opportunity to live, work and learn in the type of communities they want to serve.
Clark county native Makayla Arnett, a fourth-year medical student with the RPLP, knew she wanted to become a physician from an early age. Coming from a rural area — and being the first in her family to pursue a health care career — she initially wasn’t sure how to make her dream happen. While attending Morehead State University for her undergraduate degree, Arnett discovered the RPLP and knew it was the perfect fit for her.
“My educational experiences here in Morehead have been irreplaceable. My clinical rotations have solidified my love for health care and the Appalachian region,” she said. “As a future physician, my goal is to impact my patients’ lives and my community, and provide compassionate care to people who need it most. The Rural Physician Leadership Program has given me that and so much more.”
The RPLP’s ongoing success has had another tangible benefit — alumni of the program are eager to give back. In Morehead, eight RPLP alumni are currently practicing physicians who now serve as faculty for the program.
“Our alumni all say, ‘I’m so glad I made the decision to join the RPLP.’ By having the resources from a large institution like UK combined with the smaller, close-knit learning environment, I think this program really brings out the best in all medical training,” said Rebecca Todd, MD, associate dean for the RPLP and an OB/GYN at the UK HealthCare Morehead Women’s Health Clinic located at St. Claire HealthCare. “Receiving funding like these scholarships will support students who are passionate about practicing rural medicine and serving their communities, with the ultimate goal of improving health care in our state.”
The first round of Anthem Rural Medicine Scholarships will be announced at the RPLP’s Match Day Celebration in March. Match Day is a long-standing medical school tradition, a nationwide event where medical students learn where they have matched for their residencies following graduation.
Today’s announcement builds on Anthem Medicaid’s recent partnerships with several other higher education institutions across Kentucky, including Hazard Community and Technical College, Murray State University, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University and Eastern Kentucky University. Since 2021, Anthem Medicaid has awarded nearly $1 million to expand education and access to rural health care across the Commonwealth.
Anthem Medicaid currently serves more than 180,000 individuals in the Commonwealth, of which over 40% live in rural areas.