The University of Arizona College of Medicine — Tucson held its inaugural ceremony for the Primary Care Physician Scholarship on Friday, Jan. 31. The scholarship aims to address the shortage of primary care physicians in the state of Arizona.
The primary care physician shortage extends to all 15 of Arizona's counties. Currently, there are about 600 primary care physicians statewide, but nearly 2,000 are estimated to be needed 10 years from now in 2030, according to projections by the Robert Graham Center.
Starting this year, the scholarship will cover tuition costs for about 100 medical students who have demonstrated a strong interest in practicing primary care in a rural or underserved areas in the state.
In May, the State Legislature appropriated a portion of $8 million in annual funding to support the free tuition through the Primary Care Physician Scholarship. In return, the recipients of the scholarship commit to practicing in a rural or underserved area in the state for however many years they received the scholarship.
"Right now you have to be qualified for in-state tuition," said Dr. Michael D. Dake, the senior vice president for health sciences at the UA. "You have to commit to going into one of six specialties — OB/GYN, pediatrics, psychiatry, family medicine, general internal medicine or geriatrics. And in the future, we might expand that. … It depends on the students."
This past weekend, the winners of the scholarship had a ceremony to celebrate. The winners from the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix include Kathryn Blevins, Merrion Dawson, Megan Kelly, Alicia Leslie, George Nguyen, Jasper Puracan, Abigail Solorio and C. Maryssa Spires.
The winners of the scholarship from the UA College of Medicine — Tucson include Oumou Bah, Dawn Bowling, Joshua Calton, Guadalupe Davila, Layne Genco, Raymond Larez, Julia Liatti, Gabrielle Milillo, Radu Moga, Caylan Moore, Isabel Nava-Marquez, China Rae Newman, Leila Noghrehchi, Kaloni Philipp, Cara Popeski, Anna Ressel, Naiby Rodriguez, Hannah Shy, Beverley Trutter, Berna Villanueva and Cazandra Zaragoza.
"When they are done with their medical school, they can go anywhere and train for their residency," Dake said. "Some will go right out and practice, … but if you want to do a residency in one of those six things, you can go anywhere in the country and do it. But when you're done, you have to come back or pay us back the money."
"I've heard about these kinds of scholarships recently and I was thinking how cool it would be if that kind of thing would happen at our school, but I never thought it would," said Caylan Moore, a second-year medical student at the UA College of Medicine — Tucson. "But when I found out about the program, I looked more into it and it looked perfect."
As a recipient of the prestigious scholarship, students like Moore are able to chase their dreams without having a financial burden to constantly worry about after graduation from medical school.
"It alleviates the burden of debt and I can focus on helping the people I want to help," Moore said. "The application process entailed demonstrating why I am passionate about serving the underserved and what experiences I have had thus far to foster that interest. When I was told I got the scholarship, I was super excited. I realized that I have been given the opportunity to focus on what I am passionate about instead of what will pay me the most."
After the two ceremonies this past week, the 21 medical students at the UA College of Medicine — Tucson and the eight medical students at the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix are able to make a decision about which specialty to choose without having to worry about paying tuition and student debt later on in life.
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