With $20M in federal grants, new residency programs will train more doctors for rural areas

Twenty-seven healthcare organizations across the country will receive federal money to set up new residency programs to train more doctors to work in rural areas.

The organizations, located in 21 states, will be awarded approximately $20 million in grants, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced, with funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The goal is to bring more doctors to serve rural communities, where the growing nationwide shortage of doctors is among the most urgent.

RELATED: Rural health crisis escalates: Sometimes there’s only 1 doctor in town (if you’re lucky)

The organizations include medical schools, rural hospitals, community health centers and health centers operated by the Indian Health Service and Indian tribes or tribal organizations. They will receive Rural Residency Planning and Development Program grants of up to $750,000 over three years to develop new rural residency programs while achieving accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, HHS said.

“Promoting the health of rural America is one of the Trump Administration’s healthcare priorities,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Supporting the training of healthcare providers in rural areas through grants like these is a key way to help expand rural access to care and is part of an overall effort to support rural healthcare in sustainable, innovative and flexible ways.”

RELATED: This ‘country doctor’ protects bygone era in medicine—and access in remote California town

The grants are part of a multi-year initiative to expand the physician workforce in rural areas by developing new residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, and psychiatry.

“The health challenges in rural America are clear. Rural communities face a greater risk of poor health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” George Sigounas, HRSA administrator, said in a statement announcing the grants. “Programs like the Rural Residency Planning and Development grants take aim at one of the most persistent disparities: access to high-quality healthcare providers.”

RELATED: Specialist physicians in high demand, and their salaries reflect it

Doctors who train in rural settings are more likely to practice there after they complete their residencies, said Luis Padilla, M.D., HRSA Associate Administrator.

The grants are among other federal and state programs aimed at increasing the number of doctors and other clinicians in rural and underserved areas of the country. Those include tuition assistance or reimbursement. "Training residents in rural areas is one strategy shown to successfully encourage graduates to practice in rural settings,” said Tom Morris of HRSA.

RELATED: A new deal—$75K in loan repayment to doctors in exchange for opioid treatment in underserved areas

The rural doctor shortage is part of a nationwide shortfall. The Association of American Medical Colleges recently projected a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand grows faster than supply.

The healthcare industry has also tried to attract more doctors to primary care, a field that tends to attract fewer physicians because pay is lower than other specialties. Many new doctors are also saddled with hefty medical school debt.

Rural communities traditionally have had a difficult time attracting physicians. One recent survey found most new doctors (65%) would prefer to work in communities of 250,000 or more.