Rural and Community Health Institute Established at Health Science Center
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents today approved the establishment of the Rural and Community Health Institute (RCHI) at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center.
“Improvement of health in the rural community is a core mission of the A&M System Health Science Center,” said Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., president of the Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs for the A&M System. “As a land grant institution, the A&M System, its universities and agencies have reached out to the breadth of Texas. The A&M Health Science Center is well-positioned to extend that reach to health issues, and the newly established RCHI will help us in that challenge.
“RCHI will support academic programs and will work to strengthen community outreach and research programs with the goal of reducing the shortage of health care professionals in rural communities and the disparity in health status between rural and urban communities,” she observed.
Josie Williams, M.D., has been appointed RCHI director. Williams is also director of the A&M System Health Science Center’s Institute of Healthcare Evaluation: Quality and Patient Safety Initiatives and is an assistant professor of internal medicine and family and community medicine in the College of Medicine. Williams began her career as a registered nurse, then received a bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M University, her medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and her master’s degree in medical management from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Her areas of expertise include internal medicine, gastroenterology, quality and patient safety outcomes and health systems administration.
The institute’s goals include: (1) coordination of training for health care professionals at all levels and in all disciplines to increase the proportion choosing to practice in rural and underserved communities; (2) research on rural health care delivery systems; (3) facilitation and enhancement of delivery of preventive health information to rural communities; and (4) cooperation with communities to provide quality, safe, evidence-based health care delivery systems.
RCHI will utilize expertise from within the A&M System Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, Baylor College of Dentistry and School of Rural Public Health and its affiliated Family Practice Residency Program of the Brazos Valley; Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (which includes the Department of Rural Sociology), College of Business and College of
Architecture; and Texas Cooperative Extension.
Establishment of RCHI is precipitated by the fact that rural Texas is significantly medically underserved by every health care profession. For example, nationwide, there are 59 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, while Texas has 30 primary care physicians per 100,000 in its urban areas but just 22.4 primary care physicians per 100,000 in rural areas. The shortage of physicians, coupled with economic, cultural, sociological and geographic factors, leads to severe and persistent problems with health care access and health care status in rural and non-urban Texas communities, with documented negative influences on both community planning and economic development. Correction of this maldistribution of health care professionals in rural and small communities of Texas will not only improve health status and access, but will also positively impact economic and community development.
Activities planned for RCHI include: development of a comprehensive core curriculum for training health care professionals, including a “rural track” for medical students, which will provide instruction and experience in primary care medicine in a rural setting; development of rural fellowship programs for medical residents and a rural clerkship for medical students; assembly of teams of clinical consultants to assist rural and economically challenged populations experiencing medical or public health emergencies; development and delivery of continuing education opportunities for rural health professionals; and development of joint degree programs among health professions schools to more broadly train health care professionals for service to rural communities.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.