August 2, 2019 10:00:06 AM
In Austyn Holden's hometown of Coldwater -- where the population hovers between 1,200 and 1,300, according to the 2016 estimates -- the nearest hospital is a 45-minute drive.
That's more than three times the average distance a 2018 Pew Research Survey found residents in the region travel to access medical care.
It's also a number that led Holden, a junior biology major at Mississippi University for Women, to apply for the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship. It will fund $120,000 of her medical school tuition at University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine in Jackson, where the scholarship program is based, over four years.
"It's scary because it takes so long to get to the nearest hospital," she said. "And we have farmers and heavy equipment out here and kids, so things can happen. So I understand the need from a very real perspective."
Holden is one of 61 recipients of the MRPS -- a state-funded effort to address the shortage of doctors serving rural communities in Mississippi -- which will provide a $30,000 scholarship each year of her medical school education. After graduating medical school, she, like all MRPS recipients, must enter a residency program in one of five primary care specialties: family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatric medicine, obstetrics and gynecology or pediatric care. As a condition of the scholarship, MRPS recipients must remain in the state and work in a clinic serving an approved rural community for at least four years after completing their residency.
Right now, Holden is considering a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, although she is also giving pediatric medicine some serious thought. Either way, she would be trained in an area that would provide her multiple options to treat patients, she said.
"I could do the best of both worlds," she said. "I could start my own clinic or work for one that already is established or go into a hospital. So I could go and do whatever, however I need to."
Though Holden still has a few years to go before that time comes, she's already considering her options in terms of location.
"I could just go back home," she said. "And I might, actually. If there's something I can do there, I want to do it."
'The community aspect'
Starkville native Hannah Laird, who graduated from Mississippi State University in May and is another recipient of the MRPS scholarship, has found through personal experience that there is value in living in the same community where you work.
From an early age, she watched as her grandfather, who worked as a doctor in Starkville for more than 40 years, interacted with his patients outside the office. They would recognize him on the street, at church and in the grocery store, she said, and it gave her a new view of what it means to be a physician in a relatively small community.
"There are a lot of times where his patients still remember him," she said. "And he hasn't practiced for a while. The community aspect of being a doctor was really meaningful to me."
Laird will begin her first semester at the UMMC School of Medicine in August. While she isn't sure yet which of the five areas she will specialize, she is "incredibly grateful" for the scholarship funding that will mostly offset the cost of her education.
"It's going to come pretty close to paying for all of my medical school and I'm really grateful for that," she said. "It's a way for doctors to stay in the state because a lot of them graduate and then go somewhere else. But I plan on staying and I'm excited to learn where I'm meant to go next."
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