Washington News Bureau

Federal proposals aims to increase medical training for students in rural communities

WASHINGTON — The pandemic brought health disparities in the U.S. into the spotlight, but since then, dozens of rural hospitals nationwide have shut down.

Now, it can be difficult trying to access timely health care in rural areas.

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It’s something Chloe Burke knows all too well. During a congressional hearing in Texas last month, she shared her story about a close call.

“I lived three miles away from one of the biggest medical centers in our country, yet I could not receive the dire surgery I needed to save my life,” Burke said.

On Capitol Hill, one bipartisan proposal aims to improve access by increasing training opportunities for medical students. It would create a nationwide grant program for medical schools and community-based clinics to offer more hands-on experience in those underserved communities.

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Lawmakers say the goal is to encourage more medical students to work in rural areas after graduation.

“If you have training programs in rural communities, that increases the care that’s delivered in those communities,” said Dr. Kevin Bennett, director of the South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare.

Bennett said this legislation is a good first step but he believes there are still some major hurdles like expensive medical school debt.

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“You tend to not get paid as well in a rural community because volumes are lower, and our healthcare system pays by volume and not for taking care of populations right now,” Bennett said.

Until the financial side of medical training is addressed, Bennett said it will be difficult to place more doctors in rural communities.

“You can make 50% more by working in the suburbs, that’s hard to turn away, especially when you look at all the other amenities that are available there,” he said.

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