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Center for Rural Health Wins National Award

by Alicia P. Gregory

The University of Kentucky's Center for Rural Health in Hazard received a prestigious national award for its educational work to relieve the chronic shortage of health-care personnel in the state's rural areas.

"This award puts a whole new light on the center," says Wayne Myers, the center's director, who accepted the 1997 Primary Care Achievement Award and $5,000 prize from the Pew Health Professions Commission in San Francisco last September. "We didn't set out to be the top in the country, we just tried to come up with a good approach to address health-care distribution problems."

The rural health center, created by state legislation in 1990, targets health-care delivery problems in Kentucky by recruiting and training rural, "place-committed" students to participate in several health profession education programs, including a family practice residency, as well as nurse practitioner, physical therapy, and clinical laboratory sciences programs. Another center effort is the Kentucky Homeplace Project, begun three years ago, which trains rural women to act as health advisors and information sources for their neighbors.

Today, 85 percent of the center's graduates are living and working in rural areas, and 78 percent of them are in rural Kentucky. "There's no magic to these numbers," Myers says. "We simply train rural people in rural areas to do rural jobs and it's working. In this day when there is an absolute surplus of most health workers, a program isn't worthwhile unless it helps trained people go where they are needed."

The Center for Rural Health seeks to instill a sense of community responsibility in its students through projects like the Community Initiated Decision Making program, which aims to strengthen ties between communities and their local health-care systems and educate residents about the significance of health care to local economic development. "If rural health care gets better, people will use it more," Myers says. "And if people use rural care instead of driving into town, that keeps dollars and jobs in the community."

The Center for Rural Health plans to use the $5,000 award to support a statewide study of health-care workforce needs. "We will invite people from UK and other universities, and provider and consumer organizations across the state to help with this study which will look at the distribution of health workers across the state to determine where additional training programs may be needed," Myers says.