A shortage of physicians in rural areas—it’s what brought PCOM South Georgia to Moultrie in 2019.
Although statistics indicate that nearly 41 percent of Georgia’s population lives in rural areas, only 8% of the state’s physicians practice in rural Georgia as noted by the Rural Health Information Hub. And according to the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce, there are about half as many physicians per capita in Georgia’s non-metropolitan areas as compared to its cities. In addition, 17% of physicians in rural Georgia are nearing retirement age based on a study published by Statista.
Statistics like these are what caught the attention of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, an established medical school with a storied history and campuses in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Suwanee, Georgia. With a focus on encouraging graduates to serve where the need is greatest, PCOM, together with tremendous support from leadership in the region, established PCOM South Georgia.
There are two primary factors contributing to the lack of physicians in rural Georgia: educational loan payback burden and the qualities of rural living, according to Stacie Fairley, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at PCOM South Georgia.
“After graduating from medical school, new doctors need to pay back their loans. Some rural hospitals offer bonuses and some even offer physician loan repayment programs. However, there is a maximum amount and when that amount is reached, young physicians often leave. They frequently return to more urban hospitals for different opportunities, leading to a physician shortage in those rural areas,” she said.
The goal of closing that gap is being led by PCOM South Georgia’s Dean and Chief Academic Officer, H. William Craver, III, DO, FACOS. Dr. Craver is no stranger to rural medicine. His professional background, primarily practicing in rural areas, gives him a firsthand understanding of the struggle to find physicians to practice in Southwest Georgia. Through the years, he has been a leader and advocate for health care in Georgia, serving on the medical education advisory committee of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce. He is also a member of the Medical Association of Georgia and is part of the council on legislation and the rural healthcare group.
“In order to address the need for rural physicians, we’re recruiting students from underserved areas which include many counties in Georgia and the Southeast. We’re starting the recruiting process early with our pipeline programs that encourage local, underrepresented high school students to join the healthcare field. We’re visiting colleges in the region to promote the medical school that’s right here in South Georgia. We’re partnering with hospitals in our region to provide clinical education positions for our students during their third and fourth years of medical school, as well as residency positions upon graduation,” said Dr. Craver.
With the support of local communities, regional hospitals and the passion of faculty, staff and students, PCOM South Georgia is truly working to fill the need for physicians in rural Georgia.
“Our students are educated here,” Dr. Fairley said. “These students will be in this area for several years, so we all have the opportunity to encourage them to stay and practice here.”
About PCOM South Georgia
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia, an additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, which offers a full four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution which trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the South Georgia region. The medical campus, which welcomed its inaugural class of medical students in August of 2019, has received accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. For more information, visit www.pcom.edu or call 229-798-4710.
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