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New Mexico colleges unite to combat rural doctor shortage

The Associated Press
June 03, 2017 11:26 PM

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - The University of New Mexico and a private Las Cruces college are working to address the state's doctor shortage in hopes of improving access to care in rural areas.

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Valencia, Lea, Otero, Torrance and Luna counties have the greatest shortage of primary care doctors in the state, according to a 2016 report.

Physicians are less inclined to work in rural areas where they feel isolated or see a lack of activities and low pay, university and college officials told the Las Cruces Sun-News.

To help address the issues, the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine created 124 new residency positions and plan to expand to 400 to 500 positions in the future. The college requires its students to learn Native American healing processes and medical Spanish, skills often necessary in rural practices.

The lack of these abilities can sometimes hinder rural, minority patients from seeking professional health care, Burrell college professor Hugo Vilchis said.

"Being able to function in the language of the region, even if you're not fluent, you're still functional somehow," he said. "Our students took the osteopathic oath of English, Spanish and the native Navajo language. We're thinking this year, they will take the oath of Tiwa, the predominate language of the Pueblo people."

According to the University of New Mexico's website, its BA/MD program accepts students who are committed to practicing medicine in medically underserved communities across the state. The program requires students to shadow physicians in rural hospitals and clinics over the summer.

Program participants who are from a rural community are more likely to go back and practice in a rural community and serve minorities, said Dr. Valerie Romero-Leggott, vice chancellor and chief diversity officer at the UNM Health Sciences Center and executive director of the UNM Combined BA/MD Degree Program.

"Two-thirds of our students in the BA/MD program are from the rural area, and we have close to two-thirds of students who are minority students or under-represented students," she said.

Burrell College will graduate its first class in 2020, and UNM's combined degree program has 112 undergraduate students and 101 medical school students enrolled for the next academic year.

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The Associated Press

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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