Summer Bailey is among Millsaps College graduates who want to make sure Mississippi's rural residents have access to medical care.
A 2012 alumnus, Bailey is a first-year medical student at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, and a Mississippi Rural Physicians Program scholarship recipient. The program was authorized by the Mississippi Legislature in 2007 to help address the challenges of Mississippi's healthcare crisis.
Millsaps College graduates, who are among Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program recipients, are from left, Summer Bailey, Marlaina Berch, both in the University of Mississippi School of Medicine Class of 2016, and Emily Brandon, a member of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine Class of 2015.
The scholarship provides $30,000 a year during the four years of medical school. For every year a student receives scholarship money, he or she is expected to practice in a rural area of Mississippi.
"When I was growing up, I thought it was normal to travel 45 minutes to go to the dentist or to go for medical help. Then I got to Millsaps and saw where there are numerous medical options just around the corner."
- Summer Bailey, Class of 2012
Bailey's goal is to practice medicine in her hometown of Lorman, which she jokingly describes as having more cows than people.
"I feel more comfortable in a smaller place than a city," she said. "My parents are from the town that I am from, my grandparents are from this same town, and I can show you the house where my great-grandparents lived. Lorman and Jefferson County are where my roots are."
Like many of the 54 scholars currently in the program, Bailey has lived in a rural area of Mississippi and is already familiar with the disparities in medical care in the state.
"When I was growing up, I thought it was normal to travel 45 minutes to go to the dentist or to go for medical help," she said. "Then I got to Millsaps and saw where there are numerous medical options just around the corner."
Bailey said she feels a strong commitment to her hometown and her state. "For me the scholarship means getting a free ride to do something you should do and what a lot of us want to do - give back to our communities," she explained. She is considering pediatrics for her specialty.
Dr. John Russell McPherson, a 2008 Millsaps alumnus, graduated in the top 10 in his medical school class at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.
"Getting a Rural Physicians Program scholarship certainly solidified my decision about my future," he said. "The program empowers people to pursue their dream of rural medicine."
A native of Inverness, McPherson misses the small town way of life.
"I like that I will be able to know my patients and their families," he said. "I feel like I am being encouraged to do what I want to do. That means a lot." An avid outdoorsman, he also looks forward to living near areas where he can hunt and fish regularly.
Janie Guice, executive director of the Rural Physician Scholarship Program, said about 20 students from 70 applicants are selected each year for the program. "Most of these individuals are from rural areas and want to raise their families in a small town environment where family, church, and community are especially valued," she said.
According to Guice, 72 of the 82 counties in Mississippi are medically underserved. The state ranks last in physicians per capita while leading the nation in obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, teen pregnancy, and infant mortality. Half of the counties in the state also lack a physician for obstetrics and gynecology.
"These factors dictate why our state has major financial and educational challenges," Guice said. "Rural health is rural wealth."
Within five years, however, Guice anticipates there will be 75 new physicians practicing in rural Mississippi. "This program will be providing a solid footprint for progress in rural health care," she said.
From November until mid-February each year, Guice visits college and university campuses in Mississippi, encouraging sophomore pre-med majors to apply to the program.
"We are looking for top-notch students who have the potential to be competitive medical school applicants," Guice said. Feb. 15, 2013, is the application deadline for the next group of undergraduate students, who will enter medical school in 2015.
"The Rural Physicians Scholarship Program literally can change a young person's financial future. Many of our program participants are the first generation in their families to go to college or medical school. This program is especially a blessing for them."
- Dr. Janie Guice, Executive Director, Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program
During their junior and senior years, program participants are involved in enrichment activities that explore five primary care specialties - family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, medicine and pediatrics, and general internal medicine. Four shadowing experiences - two days in length per visit - are provided with rural physicians practicing in these specialties.
In simulation labs at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, students also learn how to deliver a baby, suture wounds, and set up an intravenous infusion."
They are getting experiences that college students don't normally get," Guice said. "Plus, if they successfully complete the scholarship program enrichment activities, keep their grades up, and score reasonably well on the MCAT, they earn direct admission consideration to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine."
Based on funding, scholarships also may be available for enrollment in the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hattiesburg. Direct admission consideration, however, is an option only at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.
After participants have graduated from college and been accepted into one of these two medical schools, a five-week summer program gives them a head start on a successful transition to medical school.
"They are taught and tested just like medical students and have gross anatomy and bio-chemistry experiences that undergraduates don't receive," Guice said. "They get to improve their dissection skills and create their study groups. All of this builds confidence and camaraderie, which is important because medical school can be very intimidating."
The enrichment activities continue once they are in medical school through what Guice calls "Gab and Grub" sessions. "These meetings are usually held after a class or a lab to give them the opportunity to share their experiences and support one another," she explained.
Guice noted that the average cost of medical school is $150,000-$225,000 here in Mississippi. Many graduates also have undergraduate loans to re-pay.
"The Rural Physicians Scholarship Program literally can change a young person's financial future," she said. "Many of our program participants are the first generation in their families to go to college or medical school. This program is especially a blessing for them."
There are three steps to the application process: an online application, interviews with practicing rural physicians who serve on the scholarship program's governing board, and interviews with the admissions committee at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.
"We are looking for individuals who want to make a long-term commitment to rural areas of the state," Guice said. "We also are making sure that primary care is a good fit for them and in line with their career goals."
Of the 525 medical students at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, 46 are Millsaps graduates. Six of those graduates currently are scholars in the Mississippi Rural Physicians Program; they are first-year students Summer Bailey from Lorman and Marlaina Berch from Sturgis, second-year student Emily Brandon from Starkville, and first-year resident Dr. John Russell McPherson from Inverness.
At William Carey University, six of the 306 medical school students are Millsaps alumni, and two are in the Mississippi Rural Physician Scholarship Program. They are first-year students Moumita Biswas from Brandon and Chelsea Rick from Fulton.
Millsaps graduates consistently do well in medical school, according to Guice. "They have excellent critical thinking skills, a diverse education, are curious, and value lifetime learning, which is critical to growing a lifelong physician," she said.
Millsaps earns high marks from Guice for embracing the program and providing easy access to students.
"Millsaps rolls out a double-thick red carpet when I visit," she said. "The pre-med advisors and science faculty are open, engaging, and eager to have information about the rural physician scholarship program shared with their students."
Bailey also has praise for her alma mater.
"You get a lot of help from your professors, and the course loads prepare you for medical school," she said. "A lot of people in medical school have not shadowed doctors, but I had that in the Millsaps Medical Mentoring Program. If you have not shadowed a doctor, how do you know you want to be a doctor?"
Bailey said her goal right now is to do the best she can in medical school. "The Rural Physicians Scholarship Program Scholarship is a big honor," she said. "People see potential in me, and I want to show them that I have that potential."
Funding for the scholarships is provided through the combined resources of the Mississippi Legislature, the Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, the Selby and Richard McRae Foundation, and the Madison Charitable Foundation.
Rural Mississippi Physician Program Scholars from Millsaps
University of Mississippi School of Medicine
William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine