Anthem $100,000 scholarship program to address rural physician shortages

Published 1:29 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Kentucky ranks 40th nationally in primary care physicians per 100,000 people. Much of that shortage is concentrated in rural areas, where 61% of Kentucky’s greatest physician needs lie.

Rural areas typically have a greater burden of disease and reduced life expectancy, since quality health care may be farther away.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid wants to help close that gap.

The company is addressing this issue by establishing a $100,000 scholarship for members of the University of Kentucky’s Rural Physician Leadership Program.

“The bottom line is that people don’t have access to care,” said Anthem President Leon Lamoreaux.

“They wait until such point as things are just terribly out of control and extremely expensive and hard to access. And so for us, within Medicaid, we want to try and create more access, and the best way to do that is to make investments.”

The scholarship is part of Anthem’s broader effort over the past two years, including an investment of a million into local colleges and universities to train the next generation of health care workers.

What is the Rural Physician Leadership Program?

The Rural Physician Leadership Program is a partnership between the UK College of Medicine, Morehead State University and St. Claire HealthCare.

The program, which includes up to 12 students per year, provides two years of rigorous coursework at UK’s Lexington campus, followed by two years of clinical rotations in Morehead.

So far, 110 physicians have graduated from the program, 46 of whom are currently practicing rural medicine.

The Anthem investment will be divided between seven students over the next four years. The scholarships will be awarded to RPLP students who have demonstrated financial need and intend to practice in a rural area after their residency.

The Rural Physician Leadership Program is designed to incentivize Kentuckians to practice in rural areas, said UK College of Medicine Dean Charles “Chipper” Griffith III, M.D.

A physician’s specialty and its compensation typically drives where they choose to practice, Griffith told reporters.

Students graduate UK’s College of Medicine with an average of $200,000 in student debt, he said.

“So you’re finishing medical school with essentially a second mortgage, and salaries are often higher in bigger cities,” Griffith said.

” … We need more primary care doctors, we need more psychiatrists, we need more general surgeon/general practice folks in rural areas, but coming out with large debt, you’re disincentivized right there to practice there even if you want to.”

The UK College of Medicine is “taking up the mantle” in a “physician-needing state” by increasing their class size from 136 to over 200 recently, and has plans for a new building to increase capacity to about 260 students, Griffith said.

Makayla’s story

Makayla Arnett is a fourth-year medical student at UK participating in the Rural Physician Leadership Program.

She was raised in rural Kentucky, and she said she learned from a young age how underserved her area was.

While at undergrad at Morehead State University, she heard about the program.

“I always had a mission to come back to this area to improve access to health care in our areas, and that’s always been a goal of mine,” Arnett said. “So when I found out about this program and it really aligned with my own personal mission, I knew that this is where I wanted to be.”

Arnett is the first in her family to practice medicine. She said that her biggest fear when she got into medical school was the “daunting” financial burden.

She didn’t know how she was going to pay for it or how long it would take to pay off her student debt.

This scholarship lifts the barrier a little, Arnett said.

She added that it has been a fulfilling experience already. She often sees people she’s cared for at the local Walmart, and loves getting to know their hearts and their needs.

“I’ve obviously learned how to practice medicine, but I think I’ve learned more about serving this population and just the people,” she said.

Griffith echoed Arnett’s sentiment, saying rural physicians can often become leaders in their community.

“You’ll know the people that you take care of, you’ll know where they go to school, you’ll know where they worship, and that’s just a great feeling,” he said.