Aug. 15, 2014 | Sarah Franklin of Gurdon, Ark., has been named the first recipient of the Arkansas Mutual Medical Student Award, a scholarship for third-year medical students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) who want to practice primary care in rural Arkansas.
The $10,000 scholarship was funded by the non-profit Arkansas Mutual Insurance Co. in partnership with the UAMS College of Medicine to encourage more medical students to enter primary care fields such as family practice and general internal medicine and to practice in rural Arkansas where access to physicians is limited.
Portions or all of 52 of Arkansas’ 75 counties have been designated as federal Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas. Approximately 44 percent of Arkansans live in rural areas. Primary care physician shortages are projected to increase substantially in the years ahead as the state’s population continues to age and require more medical care, and as more Arkansans, newly insured as a result of health system reform, seek primary care services.
“All Arkansans deserve access to high-quality primary care,” said G. Richard Smith, M.D., dean of the UAMS College of Medicine. “We want our students to understand the difference that they can make by choosing to practice primary care in a smaller community, and we are thankful that Arkansas Mutual shares our commitment to rural Arkansans.”
“Arkansas Mutual was very pleased to make this scholarship possible,” said Corey Little, CEO of the only medical liability insurance provider headquartered in Arkansas. “The scholarship’s focus on rural health care is especially important today and reflects our company’s mission not only to protect and serve the physicians of the state, but also to contribute to a healthier Arkansas.”
“We congratulate Ms. Franklin and are thrilled that the scholarship is going to such an outstanding student who is clearly committed to practicing primary care in rural Arkansas,” Little said.
Franklin is active in the UAMS Family Medicine Interest Group and currently serves as the student organization’s secretary. As co-president of the campus Rural Medicine Student Leadership Association for the 2013-2014 academic year, she helped to organize a health screening clinic in Arkadelphia, where she eventually hopes to practice.
Franklin grew up in Benton and attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, prior to medical school. She and her husband have lived in his hometown of Gurdon, southwest of Arkadelphia in Clark County, for the past several years when not in Little Rock for school. They have a 2-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter.
“Gurdon is home, and we plan to raise our children there,” said Franklin. “I want to serve in a small town where I am most needed and can do the most good.”
Franklin has “shadowed” several physicians on clinical internships in Arkadelphia including John Elkins, M.D., who delivered both of her children. “I want to practice family medicine and have additional training in obstetrics so that I can deliver a full spectrum of care to my patients,” she said.
The College of Medicine has worked with partners such as Arkansas Mutual to increase scholarships for medical students. The high cost of medical school and the burden of educational debt that most medical students face when entering residency can be a factor in choosing higher-paying specialties instead of primary care. The average medical school debt of the 2014 UAMS graduates with educational debt is $160,244.
“The prospect of paying back large loans is daunting for medical students, especially if they want to practice primary care in a small town,” said Franklin. “This scholarship lets me worry less about paying back loans and reinforces going into medicine for the reasons I wanted in the first place. I am very thankful.”