The Future Faces of Health Care in Southeast Alabama

April 13, 2018

Discovery MedCamp Students, Auburn Montgomery 2017

According to population projections announced in 2015 by the United States Census Bureau, the average American profile will change in the next few decades with America becoming “a minority majority by 2044.”[1] The data also suggests that the color of American youth - those under the age of 18 – will transition sooner - with minorities dominating the youth population by 2020.

 

But race and ethnicity are not the only changes ahead as the renowned Baby Boomers are entering retirement in what experts estimate “by 2056, the population 65 years and over is projected to become larger than the population under 18 years.”[2] And, as the population changes, so do the health characteristics and health care management.

          

Some of these changes are already reflected in the students who participate in programs of Southeast Alabama AHEC, i.e. Discovery MedCamp and the Lowndes County Health Care Academy (LCHCA) – both enrichment programs available for rural, minority, underserved students interested in health care and who live in the 15-county service area of the Center.

           

Minority students who attended the SEAAHEC summer camp program in 2016 and 2017 averaged at 47% and 44% respectively, and the summer camp applications for 2018 indicate a similar trend. Participants in the LCHCA average a bit lower at 33% - due to a small cohort in the pilot program funded by a Delta Regional Authority grant. Still, the averages suggest a new look to the next generation of the medical workforce in Southeast Alabama.

           

 

Kansas City, family medicine physician Joshua Freeman -  an affiliate faculty member of the University of Kansas - asserts this trend is necessary in order to create a “medical workforce that looks like America,” [3]  - or will look like America in less than thirty years. And, while many academicians prefer student applicants matriculate into medical school from a four-year university background, Dr. Freeman believes the two-year college systems can open a unique and much-needed transition for rural, minority, and underserved students.

           

Some of his colleagues agree: “Community college (CC) students tend to be more likely to come from families with lower socioeconomic status, to come from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, and to be the first in their families to attend college. Thus, it is encouraging that one-third of medical students have attended a community college at some point during their education.” [4]

 

Furthermore, the authors report these students are more likely to enter primary care or family medicine. This is good news for a state, like Alabama, where more than 80% of the counties are rural and in those rural counties, seven have no public-access hospital and 93% of the counties are categorized as a partial or whole primary care health professional shortage area. [5]

 

In addition, the state has an overall health ranking of 46, an education ranking of 47, and college readiness at 45 - according to the McKinsey & Company 2018 data. [6] The Alabama Statewide AHEC Program is working to change those rankings with each non-profit Center contributing hours of programming and clinical training opportunities aimed at rural, minority, and underserved youth – the future faces of health care. 

 

 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau (2015). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2015/cb15- tps16.html

 

[2] Colby, S. & Ortman, J, (2014) The Baby Boomer Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060.” Current Population Reports Population Estimates and Predictions. Retrieved from    https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf

 

[3] Freeman, J. (2017). Creating a Medical Workforce That Looks Like America: Community Colleges Have a Major Role. Family Medicine. 49:10.

 

[4] Talamantes, E., Hernandez, A., Gonzalez, R., Gonzales, K., Ulloa, J., Dowling, P., Estrada, A., & Moreno, G. (2017). Interest in Family Medicine Among US Medical Students and Its Association with a Community College Academic Pathway. Family Medicine: 49:10.

 

[5] Primary Care Health Professionals Shortage Area. (2017). Alabama Department of Public Health. Retrieved from   http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/ruralhealth/Primary%20Care%20HPSA%20Map%20-

 %20October%202017.pdf

 

[6] About Alabama. (2018). U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/Alabama.

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