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Auburn University’s Rural Medicine Program establishing quality healthcare in underserved Alabama areas

Published: 08/03/2017

By: Lindsay Penny

Video by: Phillip Coxwell

In Alabama, all but five of the state’s 67 counties are on the federal list of medically underserved areas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences. Thirty-eight of those counties lack hospitals with labor and delivery service, and eight Alabama counties do not have hospitals at all.

As a land-grant institution dedicated to increasing the quality of life for Alabama citizens, Auburn University is committed to helping place primary care physicians in the areas that need them most.

The Rural Medicine Program is a partnership with the University of Alabama School of Medicine, or UASOM, with the goal of addressing and combatting the pressing need for more primary care physicians in rural areas of the state. Students in the program must be Alabama residents who have lived a minimum of eight years in a rural area of the state and are committed to returning to rural Alabama to begin their primary care practice after completing their training.

“The Rural Medicine Program is committed to increasing the number of primary care physicians practicing in the underserved areas of Alabama,” said Lawrence Wit, Auburn’s academic director of the Rural Medicine Program, and professor and associate dean emeritus in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. “It is exciting to witness our students who have grown up in underserved communities enter these programs, complete their medical education, and return to similar communities to meet the critical need facing so many Alabamians.”

Students in the Rural Medicine Program spend one pre-matriculation year at Auburn in a series of classes and hands-on clinical training prior to beginning medical school at the UASOM. During the year, they are mentored by primary care physicians in rural practices and complete pertinent coursework.

Dr. Ashley Smith Lane began the Rural Medicine Program after graduating from Auburn’s College of Sciences and Mathematics in 2009. She is now a third-generation physician practicing in rural Alabama alongside her father and grandfather at the Lineville Medical Clinic.

“The Rural Medicine Program was a perfect fit for me,” said Lane. “I knew I wanted to come back to my hometown, and practicing in a small town means that I am able to take care of people who have supported me. I get to take care of my grandmother and my friends. It means a lot to me to be able to give back to the community that helped raise me. While in the program, we had so much experience shadowing that we were able to learn the daily ins and outs of a rural physician. I definitely had an advantage when I began medical school.”  

After completing their first year at Auburn, students in the program move on to the UASOM for their first two years of medical school before spending their last two years at the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus.

Alicia Williams, a Ft. Payne native, began the Rural Medicine Program in 2016 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mercer University.

“My past year at Auburn was amazing,” said Williams. “It exceeded my expectations. We took so many classes that will prepare me for the start of medical school, and I developed a friendship with everyone in the program, which was really special. I’ll be starting medical school knowing seven other people, and I feel so prepared and confident.”

For Williams, returning to a small town means making an impact on the community she calls home.

“I will be the first in my family to become a physician,” said Williams. “I think when younger people see someone that looks like them, or someone from where they come from become a doctor, it really shows them that anything is possible. I feel a responsibility to go back and show them that they can do this.”

Williams says she would recommend the program to anyone interested in healthcare with a passion for serving small towns.

For more information on the Rural Medicine Program, contact Lawrence Wit at witlawr@auburn.edu or 334-844-7898.

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