Sept. 21, 2017 | Three UAMS medical students have each been awarded a $20,000 Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Primary Care Scholarship, which encourages aspiring physicians to pursue primary care practices in rural Arkansas.
This year’s recipients are Steven James, a senior from Conway; Julie Sherrill, a senior from Dumas; and Allison Jackson, a junior from Bryant. The scholarship has been presented to UAMS College of Medicine juniors or seniors annually since 2012.
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, established the endowed scholarship in 2010 with a $1 million gift to the UAMS Foundation Fund.
The scholarship is a part of a broad effort to produce more family medicine, general internal medicine and general pediatrics doctors for Arkansas, especially in rural areas where access to primary care is limited. More than two-thirds of Arkansas’ 75 counties include federally designated Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.
Primary care physician shortages are expected to increase substantially as the state’s population continues to age and require more medical care, and as more Arkansans, now insured as a result of health insurance expansion, seek primary care services.
The College of Medicine has worked with private partners such as Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to increase scholarships. The high cost of medical school and the burden of educational debt that most medical students face when entering their postgraduate residency training can be a factor in choosing higher-paying specialties instead of primary care and practicing in rural areas. The average medical school debt of recent UAMS graduates who have educational debt is about $190,000.
“We encourage our students to consider practicing in smaller communities across the state because rural Arkansans need and deserve access to high-quality primary care,” said Pope L. Moseley, M.D., UAMS executive vice chancellor and College of Medicine dean. “Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield scholarships help us attract outstanding students who want to make a difference in these communities, and we are grateful for the company’s investment in these aspiring physicians.”
“We at Arkansas Blue Cross are committed to improving access to quality health care across the state, and this scholarship addresses a small part of that need,” said Curtis Barnett, Arkansas Blue Cross president and CEO. “These students represent the spirit and commitment needed in rural Arkansas, and we congratulate them on this year’s award.”
James graduated from Conway High School and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He plans to practice family medicine in northern Arkansas, in or around Mountain View, Mountain Home and Batesville.
James has strong roots in rural Arkansas, with family in Marion, Baxter and Searcy counties, some still living on land kept in the family for more than a century.
“I have always been interested in the idea of practicing family medicine in rural Arkansas, because I have a deeply entrenched love for rural Arkansas,” he said. “I can’t wait to practice the full scope of family medicine in a rural area that I love while developing relationships with the people that make rural Arkansas special.”
Sherrill received the scholarship for the second time in two years. She graduated from Dumas High School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She plans to return to southeast Arkansas to practice, aiming to become board certified in both general internal medicine and general pediatrics by completing a combined four-year medicine-pediatrics residency.
“I want to be trained to care for patients of any age,” she said.
Sherrill recognizes the need that rural areas in Arkansas have for primary care.
“I have personally witnessed the degree to which communities in rural Arkansas suffer due to the lack of medical care,” Sherill said. “In Dumas, we have two primary care physicians serving a large rural territory. Our hospital does its best to bring in additional help, but it struggles to keep the emergency room covered.”
Sherrill spent time shadowing family physicians in Dumas and McGehee. Upon receiving her undergraduate degree, she spent time as an EMT with Dumas Emergency Medical Services, where she learned about listening and relating to patients in distress.
“I realize I can’t save the world, but I can use my training to serve a community of people that truly needs help,” Sherrill said.
Jackson graduated from White Hall High School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is the first member of her family to attend medical school, and one of the first to attend college. She is interested in pursuing a career in family medicine or general internal medicine.
“I am passionate about preventive medicine and I think Arkansas could greatly benefit from more doctors in primary care,” she said.
Jackson moved to Redfield as a child, and her passion for rural communities grew.
“I spent most of my life living in a rural, medically underserved area,” she said. “Many people had no other option except to go to the ER for their medical care, often having to drive to Little Rock. In high school, I shadowed doctors at local urgent care centers in Pine Bluff and saw how many people were not able to get medical care until their illnesses had already progressed extensively.”
An emphasis on primary care, Jackson said, would make a big difference.
“Working alongside primary care doctors and translators to serve the wellness needs of the medically uninsured and underserved has taught me a lot about how rewarding primary care can be and how it always keeps you on your toes,” she said.