Rural Track Helps Deliver Doctors Where They’re Needed

Andrea Schuster, MD with infant patient
Andrea Schuster, MD, checks on one of her youngest patients at MU Health Care’s Family Medicine Clinic in Fayette. Schuster credits the MU School of Medicine’s Rural Scholars Program for helping her navigate medical school and providing valuable mentors.

Andrea Schuster, MD, plans ahead. She mapped her career out before she started kindergarten.

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor since I was 5,” she said.

Schuster knew the destination but not the route. No one in her family had worked in health care, and growing up in Pilot Grove, Missouri, she had no connections to doctors who could serve as mentors. She didn’t even know how to begin the process of applying to medical school.

During Schuster’s freshman year at the University of Missouri, a counselor alerted her to the MU School of Medicine’s Rural Scholars Program. The program is designed to address the state’s physician shortage, which is most glaring in rural counties, so every Missourian has convenient access to health care.

“The long-term goal of the Rural Scholars Program is to increase the number of rural physicians in areas of need, regardless of specialty,” said MU Associate Dean for Rural Health Kathleen Quinn, PhD. “Obviously, primary care is what most of the physicians in a rural community practice, but general surgeons, OBs and psychiatrists are very much needed in those small towns. We also work with the communities to recruit the rural students into the pipeline that might not realize they can become physicians or other health care providers.”

The first part of the pipeline is the Bryant Scholars Pre-Admissions Program. Students who are accepted as Bryant Scholars are guaranteed a spot in the MU School of Medicine. As medical students, they participate in the Rural Scholars Program in which they learn on the job with physicians in rural Missouri.

Schuster said her stints working in the clinic of Julie Burdin, MD, a family practitioner in Macon, Missouri, shaped her vision of what she wanted to become.

“She was really part of that community,” Schuster said. “Plus, she did prenatal care, which I never realized I wanted to do before.”

Rural Scholars graduates aren’t required to practice in Missouri or in small towns, but most do. Quinn said 70.2 percent of the students who began as Bryant Scholars practice in the state and 59.6 percent of them are in rural Missouri.

Schuster is one of the success stories. After finishing her residency in 2017, she accepted a position at MU Health Care’s Family Medicine Clinic in Fayette. Schuster now owns a house and 10 acres in Fayette, which is just 27 miles from the hometown where her dreams of becoming a doctor began.

She got a little help from the Rural Scholars Program to show her the way.

“I am so grateful to get that guidance,” Schuster said. “It truly is a pipeline. It helps get people where they need to be.”

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