Building a Healthcare Provider Pipeline in Underserved Communities

A Health Equity Story June 28, 2022

Healthcare quality improves when people can access care on their own terms, accounting for their individual values, attitudes, and beliefs. In some communities in the United States, a shortage of healthcare professionals makes it difficult for people to obtain the personalized care they need. This is especially true for rural areas, where the number of healthcare providers has declined in recent years, and for historically marginalized groups of people, who may not be able to find high-quality or accessible healthcare providers who reflect their cultures or experiences. To advance health equity, we must have providers who go beyond cultural competence to recognize and treat individual differences by practicing medicine with cultural humility. In creating the Elevance Health Equity Scholarships, we contribute to increasing the diversity and alleviating the shortage of healthcare providers in historically marginalized and underserved communities.

Rural communities often contend with high levels of poverty, food insecurity, and other social drivers of health that lead to health inequities. In Kentucky alone, there are shortages of rural health professionals in more than 40 different practice categories.

Practice areas that qualify for Elevance Health Equity Scholarships include primary care physicians, mental health and substance-use disorder providers, certified nurse midwives, and providers in other key shortage categories. In return, the students commit to working in a rural or underserved community for two or three years after graduation.

About 45 million people in the United States, or 15% of the population, live in areas designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) by the federal government.

More than 56% of rural counties don’t have a pediatrician.

Having lived in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains for the better part of my life, I knew I wanted to become a rural Family Nurse Practitioner.… My hope in earning my master’s in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner, is to build a culture of trust within these rural communities, a culture of health promotion and holistic care, that will enable future generations to live a healthier lifestyle by increased health literacy."

Laura Sparks

a scholarship recipient in Tennessee

Initially, scholarships were offered to students who aspired to practice rural medicine. The program quickly expanded to include three additional tracks: disability, racial equity, and tribal. The scholarships for each of these tracks cover tuition and expenses, as well as other costs that could be barriers to education including rent, child or elder care, personal assistance services, and accessible transportation.

“I’m really looking forward to starting the first semester of my nursing studies, and receiving this scholarship makes getting started easier,” says April Grigsby, a native of Kentucky’s Perry County and one of the first scholarship recipients. “Knowing there is a tremendous need for nurses and healthcare workers in this part of the state makes me excited and ready to get to work.”

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