BATON ROUGE — This National Rural Health Day, the Louisiana Department of Health is celebrating the student healthcare professionals who are learning about practicing medicine in underserved areas through the Well-Ahead Louisiana Rural Health Scholars Program.
The program is part of LDH’s Fiscal Year 2022 business plan strategy to diversify the state’s health workforce and improve patient experiences. LDH will further build upon this work in Fiscal Year 2023.
Managed by Well-Ahead Louisiana within the LDH Office of Public Health (OPH), the Rural Health Scholars Program matches students from Louisiana colleges and universities who are studying to be a physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP) with healthcare facilities in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). HPSAs are geographic areas, populations and facilities with too few primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers or services. The 17 scholars in year one were placed at 14 healthcare sites, including one with four locations:
- Acadiana Pediatrics, Rayne
- Common Ground Clinic, Gretna
- CommuniHealth Services, Bastrop Pediatric Center
- Family First Medicine, Ruston
- Family Healthcare of Loranger
- Hood Memorial Hospital, Amite
- Iberia Comprehensive Community Health Center, Lafayette
- Lady of the Sea Medical Clinic, Larose
- Southcare Medical Clinic, Abbeville
- Southeast Community Health System, Independence, Kentwood, Greensburg and Albany
- St. James Primary Care Clinic, Gramercy
Well-Ahead has already selected 14 students for year two and is accepting applications through December 31. To apply for year two, visit wellaheadla.com/rural-health-scholars-program.
Rural communities are disproportionately impacted by poor health outcomes and are less likely to have access to quality healthcare. In Louisiana, 73% of residents live in a Health Professional Shortage Area.
“Though rural areas are vital to Louisiana, these areas are often underserved in terms of healthcare. We are excited to further expand the Rural Health Scholars Program, to ultimately decrease the percentage of people living in underserved areas and provide greater access to primary care for all Louisiana residents,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips. “This innovative program links healthcare students with rural healthcare facilities, increasing access to more Louisiana residents while also giving the next generation of health professionals vital experience in providing care to rural populations.”
“We take pride in the rich heritage and diverse communities across our state,” said Melissa R. Martin, director of Well-Ahead Louisiana. “Through the Rural Health Scholars Program, we have the opportunity to showcase not only the impact future healthcare professionals can make in these rural communities, but also share the many benefits of living in Louisiana.”
Serving the underserved
Students in the Rural Health Scholars Program complete 180 hours of a clinical rotation within 90 days at a rural healthcare facility. Participating students receive a stipend and post-graduation job placement assistance.
“I chose to apply for the Rural Health Scholars Program to develop a better understanding of what it is like to practice as a PA in a rural area,” said Baton Rouge native Brooke Hillman, a Rural Health Scholar from Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University (FranU). “Many people in rural areas lack access to healthcare, and as a PA I will have the opportunity to improve healthcare outcomes in my home state of Louisiana.”
Hillman is serving her clinical rotation at Southeast Community Health System’s Kentwood clinic in Tangipahoa Parish.
“Family Healthcare of Loranger, LLC is proud to have a partnership with the Rural Health Scholars Program. Our first student in the program, Audrey Tallis, is getting a lot of experience in pediatrics in this rural setting,” said Kimberly Manina, FNP-C, owner and operator of the Tangipahoa Parish clinic. “The Rural Health Scholars Program is greatly needed in rural healthcare. Family Healthcare of Loranger, LLC will continue to help bridge the gap in the medical field for underserved and rural areas in Louisiana.”
Tallis is a nurse practitioner (NP) student from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO).
Investing in Louisiana
According to Dr. Leanne Fowler, associate professor of clinical nursing at LSUHSC New Orleans, this program is a worthwhile investment for the school’s NP students and Louisiana.
“Clinical placement for nurse practitioner students is a challenge for programs nationwide. In order to sustain high-quality NP student clinical education, clinical placement among the populations they will serve is necessary for their development, transition into the workforce and confidence with underserved communities,” said Dr. Fowler. “Supporting NP students with clinical placement and financial support, during the most meaningful time during their development as an NP, is an investment the state of Louisiana’s citizens and communities will yield for years to come.”
“With the Louisiana Department of Health’s mission and FranU’s commitment to being of service to the community in areas of need, the physician assistant program at FranU sees this as a perfect partnership. As being named the top provider of healthcare professionals in the Capital Region by BRAC, we are happy to extend our reach of service into the rural parts of the state. We look forward to all those we will be able to serve by working together,” said Michael McIntosh, PA-C, DScPAs, clinical coordinator for the FranU physician assistant program.
“I’m thrilled to see the Department making strides to give areas with health professional shortages the healthcare that residents need and deserve. This program creates a wonderful opportunity to create partnerships between rural, underserved communities and colleges while also giving residents more equal access to healthcare,” said State Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.
Well-Ahead Louisiana is the chronic disease prevention and healthcare access arm of the Louisiana Department of Health. Well-Ahead connects communities to tools and resources that help improve the health of Louisiana’s residents where they live, work, learn, play and pray. For more information, visit www.wellaheadla.com.