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The multi-year grant will fund a comprehensive approach to improving healthcare access in underserved communities.

Published Dec 13th, 2023

By Michelle Ryan

While improving healthcare access remains a challenge, a recently awarded grant and an ongoing initiative aim to help USA Health and the University of South Alabama address the issue head on.

Allen Perkins, M.D., M.P.H., a family medicine physician at USA Health, recently was awarded a $16 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant that seeks to increase the number of primary care physicians in states facing the highest projected shortages within the next two years. Perkins also serves as chief ambulatory medical officer and population health officer for USA Health.

The multi-year grant will fund a comprehensive approach to improving healthcare access in underserved communities that builds on the Primary Care Pathway program, which prepares medical students through a broad-based, four-year program in primary care to serve patients in rural and underserved areas.

New to the program is a post-baccalaureate component that takes students from historically underserved communities, Perkins said, and prepares them for the rigors of medical school, so they will be more likely to succeed once admitted. Additional training in the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine prepares students for practicing in underserved communities in partnership with Franklin Primary Health Center and Accordia Health.

The new funding also allows for the Whiddon College of Medicine to hire an epidemiologist and biostatistician to help characterize the communities the students are training in and help focus the student outreach and impact on the communities, Perkins said, noting “the students have now been in the communities for four years and are beginning to identify resource needs unique to each of the areas.”

With the help of the Covey College of Allied Health Professions, the USA Health Department of Family Medicine, and the USA Center for Healthy Communities, the latest training model is an expansion of the Primary Care Pathway program. It will recruit and enroll up to 40 students from historically underrepresented groups or those who have had formative experiences in historically underserved communities and have expressed an interest in practicing primary care in such settings.

“This grant is a vital steppingstone for identifying these students, supporting them in medical school, and keeping them focused on the care they are training to deliver,” said John Marymont, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the Whiddon College of Medicine at USA and vice president for medical affairs. “The idea is that after medical school these new physicians will complete residency training and return to rural communities to provide much-needed care.”

For years, Perkins, also a professor of family medicine at the Whiddon College of Medicine, has championed reaching underserved communities through training primary care physicians and obtaining grants like this one.

“We’re proud Dr. Perkins and his team continue to aggressively seek ways to address and alleviate the health disparities that persist in our community and throughout the United States,” said Owen Bailey, MSHA, FACHE, chief executive officer for USA Health and senior associate vice president for medical affairs. “We are extremely optimistic this project will not only be transformational for the Whiddon College of Medicine, its educators and students, but also for residents of rural communities in southwest Alabama served by our academic health system.”

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