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Serving the Underserved
Thomas M. Anderson, MD
ISMS President
Thomas M. Anderson, MD

Much has been made of the challenges associated with meeting medical care needs in underserved rural areas. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that rural Americans are more likely to die from the top five causes of death than those living in urban environments. 

This is a real problem for Illinois, and ISMS is committed to meeting the health care needs of every Illinois patient. I’d like to highlight several initiatives that address rural health workforce challenges, and some of the resources that are available to help these communities.

Let’s start with the crown jewel, the Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program (RIMSAP). Formed as a partnership between ISMS and the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) in 1948, RIMSAP's goal is to supply more doctors to rural communities in the Prairie State. Over the years, RIMSAP has helped more than 800 qualified students pursue – and pay for – their medical education. In return, students agree to practice medicine in an approved rural Illinois community, and specialize in family practice or another primary care field. 

Organizations such as RIMSAP work in tandem with Illinois' Rural Health Association and the Southern Illinois Medical Association (SIMA) to boost the health of our rural patients.

At a recent SIMA meeting, I learned more about a couple other programs that are being offered right here in Illinois. Some small towns with local hospitals are providing financing for loan forgiveness and developing creative incentives to attract needed health professionals.

This reminded me of the important contributions of our medical schools and residency programs. Southern Illinois University (SIU) and the University of Illinois offer rural health training tracks and programs to increase the flow of health professionals to where they are needed most.

SIU also has a loan forgiveness program. Federal and state programs are available to help discharge all or a portion of a student loan if specific criteria are met, including working for not-for-profit organizations that provide certain types of qualifying public service.

I’m happy to report that during my travels around the state I have met with several medical students who indicated an interest in rural practice.

ISMS recently published a new resource to help communities build their health workforce. Best Practices in Recruiting Physicians to Rural Areas was developed to call attention to several innovative methods (including a few that I've mentioned above) for bringing physicians to rural areas.

All of these programs and initiatives can make a difference. ISMS will continue to investigate these access issues, support necessary legislation, and take bold action to create a future in which all patients – regardless of geographic location – have access to the health care they need.   

I look forward to hearing from you. During my term, I can be reached at DrAnderson@isms.org.

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