University of Arizona brings rural health care program to Phoenix campus

Dr. Jonathan Cartsonis (Alexandra Scoville/DD)
University of Arizona Rural Health Professions Program Director Dr. Jonathan Cartsonis’ vision is to expand medical programs across rural Arizona. (Alexandra Scoville/DD)

In a long anticipated move, the University of Arizona’s Rural Health Professions Program has expanded to the university’s medical center in downtown Phoenix.

The University of Arizona cited the need for rural practice physicians, as well as its Arizona Area Health Education Centers Program funding, as key factors for initiating the Rural Health Professions Program on the Phoenix campus, according to the University of Arizona AHEC 2013 Annual Report.

According to the report, two of the program’s main focuses are increasing the number of graduates who practice in a rural setting and developing collaborative relationships with rural communities and faculty.

Dr. Jonathan Cartsonis, who was named director of the program in February 2013, said its aim “is to help fill an urgent need in rural communities.”

Associate Director of Public Affairs Al Bravo said he believes the program enables students to be prepared to practice medicine at a high level wherever they choose after graduating. He also said this will help with the major physician shortage Arizona is currently experiencing.

Cartsonis said that even though about 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, only about 10 percent of doctors practice in rural settings.

In 2011, 19 to 33 percent of Arizona’s population lived in an area designated as a primary care health professional shortage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s a natural progression to continue work to remedy the inequality with regards to access to healthcare,” Cartsonis said.

Cartsonis said he believes the program will help bring attention to the rural areas of Arizona that currently lack medical professionals.

The Phoenix program will differ from the one offered in Tucson. Although the Tucson program offers third-year rural clerkships ranging from six to 12 weeks, the Phoenix clerkships require students to spend 24 weeks in a rural setting.

“Other colleges that have done similar things for a long time, for instance the University of Minnesota, they can show that the students actually learn quite well and are very well prepared when they go to the rural areas when they’ve had that rural experience,” Cartsonis said.

The University of Minnesota’s Rural Physician Associate Program has had 65 percent of its participants since its founding in 1971 stay in the state of Minnesota after graduation, according its website. Of the 65 percent, 31 percent have practiced in rural communities in Minnesota.

Cartsonis said he believes this high success rate can be replicated in Arizona, which will help Arizona’s current lack of medical professionals.

Cartsonis described the current time as a “big growth phase” for the medical program and said he expects to see “more programs with new visions in Phoenix.”

He said the overall goal is to meet the needs of Arizona.

Trenden Flanigan, a second-year medical student in the rural health program, spent a month and a half studying in Show Low, Ariz., this past summer.

“I got to see and help with medicine in a more rural setting,” Flanigan said. “In a smaller town or area the doctor gets to know the patients and personalize the care. They have longer relationships.”

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