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OU receives $16 million to recruit, retain medical students from underserved communities

Nyk Daniels

The University of Oklahoma will receive $16 million over four years to help recruit and retain medical students from Tribal, rural and medically underserved communities.

The University of Oklahoma will receive $16 million over four years to help recruit and retain medical students from Tribal, rural and medically underserved communities.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant will go toward an initiative called The Tribal, Rural and Medically Underserved Communities in Oklahoma Pathways Program. It’s a partnership between OU’s College of Medicine, OU Health Sciences and the OU-TU School of Community Medicine.

The grant will focus on enhancing medical student education through curricula emphasizing the importance of primary care — especially in underserved and rural locations. Oklahoma ranks 47th in primary care access, with two counties classified as primary care health profession shortage areas.

Mary Gowin, associate professor in the OU College of Medicine’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, said the grant is important for Oklahoma's health and economic well-being.

“This is so vital,” Gowin said in a news release. “Approximately 41% of our Oklahoma population lives in rural cities and towns. We also have the largest number of federally recognized tribes at 38, and Tribal land makes up about 43% of the state's landmass.”

The initiative will also address barriers students face entering medical school through resources to support their applications and scholarships. Frances Wen, director of research for the Department of Family and Community Medicine at OU-TU’s School of Community Medicine, said this effort will help students explore and prepare themselves for a career in medicine.

“Some of the students who come from Tribal, rural, and underserved communities are first-generation college students, let alone first-generation entering into a health professional school,” Wen said in the release. “They may discover later on in their trajectory that this is something that they're really interested in and excited about.”

The project’s team is working with partners to help students gain experience in primary care, social determinants of health, vulnerable populations and trauma-informed care. The team is also helping connect students to rotations, clerkships and electives in underserved communities.

Current partnerships include the Muscogee Creek Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Hillcrest HealthCare Systems and Jackson County Memorial Hospital. The team has also brought on new partners, including Integris Health, SSM Health, Variety Care, Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Langston University.

Dr. James Herman, the dean of OU-TU’s School of Community Medicine, said he looks forward to the expansion of Oklahoma's health partnerships and recruitment of new students from its communities.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Jillian Taylor reports on health and related topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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