ROCKFORD – The University of Illinois at Rockford College of Medicine and other public universities across the state are trying to address the shortage of health professionals in rural areas.
The challenge is tall, according to Dr. Alex Stagnaro-Green, Dean of the College of Medicine Rockford.
âThe number of students entering medical school who wish to practice in rural areas has declined by 28% since 2017,â Stagnaro-Green said. âAt the same time, there has been a 30% increase in the number of students entering medical school. The total number of students entering medical school interested in rural areas is 4.3%, but 20% of our state and country are rural. It is as strong a shift as we see elsewhere.
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To compound the problem, a significant number of health professionals currently serving rural areas are nearing retirement.
The nearly two million people living in rural Illinois tend to be older, less well-insured, more likely to live in poverty, be in poor health, and be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 .
One proposed solution is to expand the medical education programs offered at Rockford.
The University of Illinois at Rockford College of Medicine hopes to inaugurate a rural health sciences education building on the college’s existing campus at 1601 Parkview Ave.
The $ 100 million building would allow the college to expand its programs focused on training rural health professionals in areas such as dentistry, public health, social work and applied health. The facility would bring 400 more medical students to Rockford and double the number of college enrollments.
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The University of Illinois at Rockford College of Medicine has partnered with a network of 30 hospitals and health systems across the state to expand health care programs with a focus on rural areas , including medicine, nursing, pharmacy and dentistry.
Much remains to be done to address the shortage of health workers in rural areas, according to University of Illinois Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
âWe need to provide incentives for these young medical graduates to practice in these areas for a while,â Amiridis said. âAnd that can be done by canceling student debt, by offering scholarships to go into certain fields if they agree to serve a certain number of years in rural areas. It is something that can be undertaken by the state or the federal government to engage young medical students and rejuvenate the rural areas of the country. “
The next steps for the Rockford Rural Health Sciences Education Building project are to secure funding from state, federal and private sources.
Stagnaro-Green hopes that construction will begin in 2023.
âThese are real issues that we need to work on in the state of Illinois,â said University of Illinois system chairman Tim Killeen. âAnd Rockford Medical Center is making a huge dent in these issues by training the next generation of doctors. It is a problem that we must tackle.