Rural Health Professions Education at East Tennessee State University: Survey of Graduates From the First Decade of the Community Partnership Program

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Context: To help meet rural Appalachian needs, and with initial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, East Tennessee State University partnered with 2 counties to implement a health curriculum for nursing, public health, and medical students in a rural setting. The Community Partnerships Program 3-year longitudinal curriculum included theoretical, conceptual, and practice elements of the 3 disciplines incorporated into an experiential, inquiry-based, service-learning program. Interdisciplinary learning, problem solving, and reinforcement of career choices in medically underserved rural communities were emphasized. Purpose: To compare career choices, attitudes, and practice locations of Community Partnerships Program graduates with traditional graduates. Methods: Surveys were mailed to Community Partnerships Program and traditional program graduates matriculating from 1992 to 2002 (response rates 58/84 and 72/168, respectively). Findings: Community Partnerships Program graduates indicated a significantly greater interest in rural primary care, care for the underserved and interdisciplinary group collaboration, and were more likely to practice in rural locations than did their traditionally educated peers. Family, personal factors, and the availability of employment were major influences in determining the decision to choose a career in a rural location. Community Partnerships Program graduates indicated they were better prepared to work in interdisciplinary teams and were more likely to work in community-based programs and activities than did the traditional graduates. Conclusion: A program that enrolls students interested in rural health care and provides training in rural communities produces graduates who will practice in rural areas.