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WVU Renews Commitment to Train Rural Health Providers

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West Virginia University Health Sciences officials recently reiterated the university's commitment to training doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to serve people living in rural areas.

And they are offering a tuition incentive to help students in the medical field chose to stay in the Mountain State after they graduate.

Health Sciences officials said this week the new Institute for Community and Rural Health will place Health Sciences students in communities and rural areas as part of their curriculum.

Officials also announced the program will offer an extra incentive to five students each year to stay and practice in West Virginia. According to a news release from the university, one fourth-year dental student, two third-year medical students and two fourth-year medical students will be offered free tuition in exchange for a commitment to practice in the state once they graduate. That represents a value of $30,000-40,000 per year for each student.

"WVU Health Sciences has a unique mission to serve the state by offering the highest quality education and healthcare," said Dr. Christopher C. Colenda, chancellor for Health Sciences. "Our renewed commitment to the rural health program is a major step that will lead to our ultimate goal to transform the lives of people throughout West Virginia."

According to the news release, the schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy have required students for the past 20 years to spend several months working and learning in small clinics and hospitals in the state as they lived in the communities they served. Officials said the immersion experience allowed students to see the unique quality of life and the value of setting up practice in the state's small towns and rural areas.

The original statewide rural health program was developed by order of the state legislature.

"While a rural rotation is no longer a state mandate, WVU believes it is essential to the educational experience of our students," said Dr. Larry Rhodes, director of the Institute for Community and Rural Health. "This also ensures that our communities will continue to benefit from the partnerships developed over the years through the former rural health program."

Rhodes said  each school, along with the professional programs of physical therapy, occupational therapy and medical technology, has been retooling its rural health rotation program to best suit the educational goals of its students and the needs in the communities. Students will work side by side with physicians and other healthcare providers, coordinated by Area Health Education Centers.

"West Virginia University's Charleston Division came about because of the foresight of many leaders who realized the impact of a statewide system of health professions education," said Dr. Clark Hansbarger, associate vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine for WVU's Charleston Division.  "The WVU Institute for Community and Rural Health will utilize the synergy of resources offered by AHEC and our partners to serve the rural and primary care needs of our fellow West Virginians."