- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

PONCA, Neb. (AP) - A special Nebraska program continues to give high school students from rural areas a shot at medical school in the hope they will return to a similar area to work.

The Rural Health Opportunities Program is designed to help address the shortage of doctors, nurses and other medical workers in rural areas.

The Sioux City Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1bcDkWW ) the program offers a full undergraduate scholarship and early admission to the University of Nebraska Medical School.

Natalie Leader graduated from dental school in 2012 and now owns her own dental practice in Ponca. Leader, who is from Wayne, said she couldn’t imagine living and working in a big city.

“I don’t particularly love living in the city,” Leader said. “There’s a lot more opportunity sometimes in rural Nebraska.”

The program began in 1990. Since then 420 students have graduated and 65 percent of those are practicing medicine in Nebraska. Students aren’t obligated to work in rural areas but many do.

Other states have similar programs. Nebraska’s is unusual in that it targets high school students instead of college students.

“We’re pretty happy with it,” said Dr. Jeff Harrison, assistant dean for admissions and student affairs and family medicine professor at UNMC. “It’s done what it was meant to do.”

The program is a partnership between UNMC and the state’s three state colleges in Wayne, Peru and Chadron that attract most of their students from rural areas. Between seven and 28 students who grew up in rural areas are admitted each year.

“It goes back to the old data: Who’s going to go back and practice in a rural area? Someone from a rural area,” Harrison said. “It is kids going back to their roots.”

Wayne State College sophomore Mary Alderson said having a spot in medical school already gives her peace of mind while she’s studying chemistry.

“That is the thing that makes RHOP worthwhile. You’re reassured that what you’re doing will pay off,” said Alderson, who is from North Bend.

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