Amid evidence of its rural, Appalachian students’ low application and matriculation rates to in-state medical schools, the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center (NE KY AHEC) has developed two physician pipeline programs designed to produce more – and more competitive – regional applicants. Results from these efforts were recently published in a rural health-themed supplement to the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved in an article titled “Priming the Physician Pipeline: A Regional AHEC’s Use of In-state Medical School Data to Guide Its Health Careers Programming.” The article was authored by NE KY AHEC Director David A. Gross, Assistant Director Lainey Mattox, and Marketing Assistant Nicole Winkleman.
Prior studies cite multiple factors contributing to the longstanding shortage of physicians in Appalachian Kentucky, including a comparatively low number of native students who apply to and subsequently are accepted into medical school. To assess the situation within its service region, the NE KY AHEC collected county-level applicant and matriculant data from the state’s three medical schools for a five-year period (2009-’13). The findings were disturbing: fewer than 30% of northeastern Kentucky’s applicants were accepted into medical school, two counties had zero applicants, and 12 of the region’s 17 counties had four or fewer matriculants.
To address these issues, the NE KY AHEC developed two health careers pipeline programs targeted toward college undergraduates:
The Summer Health Internship Program (SHIP), which places pre-medical and other health professions students in health-focused organizations for six-week paid internships; and
Successfully Training and Educating Pre-medical Students (STEPS), which provides students with Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) reviews and a practice exam, physician shadowing, an application process tutorial, mock interviews, and other activities aimed at preparing them for acceptance into medical school.
Since 2013, the NE KY AHEC’s physician pipeline programs have yielded positive results. At the time the article was submitted, three cohorts had completed SHIP, with a total of 21 participants. Of these, eight pre-medicine students had matriculated to or been accepted by a medical school. Two cohorts had completed STEPS, with a total of 18 participants. Average MCAT scores of STEPS participants increased by 4.6 points in 2014 and 7.6 points in 2015 – and, of the 16 students who met all program requirements, 14 had matriculated to or been accepted by a medical school.
“The goal of this Federal Office of Rural Health Policy-supported issue was to highlight promising solutions to longstanding rural health challenges,” Gross said. “Rural physician shortages have been an intractable problem across Kentucky, but following implementation of our programs, the number of in-state medical school applicants and matriculants from the Northeast Kentucky AHEC region increased in both 2014 and 2015. These preliminary outcomes suggest additional analysis of such programs is warranted to assess their long-term impact in alleviating the rural provider shortages in Kentucky and elsewhere.”
As a result of the journal publication, STEPS also was recently featured on the federally funded Rural Health Information Hub’s Models and Innovations web page here.
(Blog by David A. Gross, MPA, Director, Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center)