Meeting the Primary Care Needs of Rural Illinois
By Angela Black
Access to quality health care should not be something that disappears the farther one drives from the city. According to an article in the Economic Research Service September 2009 issue of Amber Waves, Carol Jones Senior Economist at USDA’s Economic Research Service, has found that “rural households have less access than urban households to affordable, nearby, high-quality health care.” Many rural Americans must travel long distances just to visit the doctor because rural communities have difficulty attracting and retaining health care providers.
The Illinois Farm Bureau addresses this physician shortage with two programs aimed at meeting the primary care needs of rural Illinois.
Started in 1948, the Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program (RIMSAP) has been helping place doctors in rural communities for more than 50 years. RIMSAP, which is sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois State Medical Society, assists medical students facing barriers to their medical education at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.
Students who are Illinois residents may be eligible to receive recommendations to the University of Illinois and have the option to take out a low-interest $30,000 loan. In exchange, recipients must practice in a primary health care field in an approved rural Illinois community for up to five years, depending on amount of assistance given.
Eligible residency fields include: Family Practice, Internal Medicine, OB-GYN, Pediatrics, Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, General Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry. Since its inception, more than 800 students have received recommendations and/or loans.
Since 1992, RIMSAP has also been awarding scholarships to nurse practitioner students in Illinois through the Rural Nurse Practitioner Scholarship Program. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have additional training, which allows them to provide health care services similar to physicians. The $4,000 award is available to students who are Illinois residents, registered nurses, and already accepted to a university nurse practitioner program. Scholarship participants agree to practice for two years in one of the state’s approved rural communities.