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Rural Health Training Programs Spreading

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, December 28, 2011

It's an oft-cited statistic: Only about 10% of physicians practice in rural areas, although nearly 25% of Americans live in rural areas. And though there are countless benefits to practicing in rural areas, provider recruitment and retention continues to be a challenge.

Rather than simply courting big-city providers and graduates, it's critical for rural communities and organizations to develop their own talent. Thankfully, that seems to be happening more and more often.

A new program the University of Florida's College of Public Health and Health Professions is among the latest to train rural providers where they'll be practicing. The school has partnered with Florida A&M University's Institute of Public Health to establish the Rural South Public Health Training Center. Using grant funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, the center will provide competency-based training for public health workers and internships for Masters of Public Health students.

One of the many benefits to local training programs is the fact that they place special emphasis on the specific health issues that affect patients in a particular region. For example, the Rural South Public Health Training Center will serve medically underserved counties in Florida, particularly in northern rural regions of the state, and one main focus area will be on developing skills for the prevention and management of HIV/AIDS.

According to published research, this kind of outreach is needed in rural northern Florida. A 2003 study in the journal Public Health Nursing showed that "HIV prevention outreach should be expanded" in rural areas of the state. Plus, rural residents account for 9% of the state's HIV/AIDS population, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The programs at the Rural South Public Health Training Center will include:

  • Free, online continuing education to Florida public health workers, which will provide continuing education credits for up to 500 public health workers per year.
  • Online certificates in public health foundations and in prevention and management of HIV for professionals with a bachelor's degree
  • Competitive, paid internships
  • A graduate certificate in HIV/AIDS prevention and management available to UF and FAMU Master of Public Health and doctoral students, as well as online participants from anywhere in the world; to be added next fall

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