According to recent studies by the Alabama Rural Health Association, numerous job opportunities are scattered across the state of Alabama for any student studying for a career in the medical field, yet thousands remain unfilled. Today in the rural, under-served counties of Alabama, a minimum of 156 primary care physicians, 262 dentists and 84 psychiatrists are needed to eliminate the enormous shortages in these health care professions. The areas of need are extensive and include every area of medicine from veterinarians to nurses, physical therapists to medical specialists.
It was this great need that drove Jonathan McCollum, a senior biomedical major from Autaugaville, and Darcy Perkins, a senior biomedical major from Prattville, to work on creating a local Rural Health Association chapter at Troy University. McCollum discovered the association while serving at a medical internship through the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).
“When I did the internship, they showed us the statistics about how you have counties where only one or two doctors are available to the whole county,” McCollum said. “They said that they had so many students going in medicine saying they want to help people, but then they go and specialize and only help certain people.”
The Rural Health Association is a national association and is subdivided by state. In Alabama, the Rural Health Association has formed local student chapters at several universities to raise awareness of the need for medical practitioners and provide opportunities and direction for interested medical students. Currently, there are student RHA chapters at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the University at South Alabama (USA) and University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
McCollum and Perkins held the first interest meeting for RHA on Wednesday, Oct. 2, and are looking to have the group officially chartered by November. Until then, the group still plans to meet several times a month and seek opportunities to volunteer in the local counties. During the meeting, McCollum and Perkins shared their desire to bring awareness to the need among Troy University’s medical student body while serving the communities in need.
“This group,” McCollum said, “is about volunteering in rural communities and serving them like we will serve them later.”
In particular, McCollum challenged medical students to consider returning to the rural communities they grew up in and serving their communities as medical professionals.
Janet Gaston, the health professions adviser and the adviser of Troy University’s soon-to-be Rural Health Association, has personally experienced this need in her hometown in Wilcox County.
“There are two doctors in Wilcox County right now and they are seeing everyone from infants to the elderly and everyone in between,” Gaston said. “My mother is in her eighties, and she is constantly going to the doctor. We have to drive two hours to see a specialist in Montgomery, sometimes twice a week.”
The first interest meeting was well received with about 25 students in attendance. For more information about the group and ways to get involved, please email Jonathan McCollum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many in the medical field this group may open the door to working, serving and making a difference in the local communities of Alabama.
“With more and more students pursuing careers in medicine, Troy would benefit from the Alabama Rural Health Association,” Perkins said. “I definitely want to be involved in my local community while pursuing my career in medicine. I want to settle down in a town where I feel that I can make a difference.”