While the rural scholars are not required to sign any sort of contract, Guin says there is "more of a handshake agreement" that they will commit to rural medicine when they graduate from medical school. The program appears to be working.
"[Within] general regular medical school admissions you are looking at maybe 10% of med students [who] end up going into family medicine/primary care. For us, we've got at least 60%—70% ending up in primary care, which would include family medicine and internal medicine and pediatrics and 90% that are staying in Alabama as practicing physicians. Some are cardiologist and radiologists, but they are still coming through our program and staying in the state. So we are not training physicians and seeing them go to another state. Those numbers alone are way outside the box for the norm."
The Rural Scholars program has proven so successful that it has morphed into a Rural Health Leaders Pipeline with six distinct programs that involve about 150 students of various ages at any given time, and even identifies and recruits 10th graders who've shown an interest in pursuing careers in healthcare.
"We work with them for the nine-month school year, at least having monthly meetings with them. College students, medicals students, and residents interact with the 10th graders to be mentors for students who might be interested in some sort of health profession," Guin says.
A separate program for 25 eleventh graders includes a five-week summer program with courses in chemistry, creating writing, and visits to hospitals and physicians offices. There is also a Rural Minorities Health Scholars program that provides first-year college students with preparatory classes in biology and shadowing healthcare providers.