Rural communities across the U.S.—and especially the American South—desperately need more healthcare professionals. Now the University of Alabama, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has launched a new summer program to prepare pre-med students to address the issue and potentially boost the much-needed pipeline from medical school to underserved small towns across the state.

UA’s College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) this month welcomed the first class of students in the Tuscaloosa Rural Pre-Medical Internship, a seven-week program that teaches students about the health needs of rural Alabama residents, particularly in the fields of family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics.

Participants will also gain a better understanding of the day-to-day life of family medicine doctors. Additionally, the program will enhance students’ understanding of medical school and increase their competitiveness for medical school admission.

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The program is part of the CCHS’s Rural Programs and its Rural Health Leaders Pipeline. The pipeline is a sequence of programs from high school through medical school that recruit students from rural Alabama interested in working as future doctors and other health care professionals in rural communities.

“It means a great deal for CCHS Rural Programs to host these students as it adds another entry point into the Rural Health Leaders Pipeline,” said LaKeshia Whigham, program coordinator of CCHS Rural Programs. She said the pipeline’s mission is develop programs that “encourage, attract and nurture students of rural Alabama into and through programs to ‘grow our own’ rural health professionals who are leaders in developing healthy communities. I hope the students learn that they are an invaluable resource to their communities and understand the impact primary care physicians can have on rural areas in the state.”

“We want these students to know our programs can be an avenue in their journey to serve rural Alabama,” Whigham added.

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Students will spend five weeks at CCHS and two weeks with a family medicine physician near their hometown. Only rural Alabama residents are accepted. To be eligible, they must have completed four semesters of undergraduate coursework, have an overall GPA of a B range or higher, and scored at least a 22 on the ACT or 1200 on the SAT.

The Centers for Disease Control website notes that people living in rural areas “are more likely than urban residents to die prematurely from all of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.”

According to, primary care is the most basic and most vital service needed in rural communities today. The benefits of primary care includes early disease detection, better care coordination, lower cancer and heart disease mortality rates, reduction in low birth weight, and improved health behaviors.

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

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