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Rural Initiative Overview

Welcome to the GME Rural and Underserved Initatives Page! 

Our Vision

  • We improve access to quality healthcare for rural and underserved populations.
  • We co-create sustainable physician access through clinical and cultural exposure of GME trainees and position University of Utah Health as a national leader in community partnerships and rural GME.
  • We discover and enhance factors that increase the viability and diversity of rural physician practice models.
  • We accomplish this through rural awareness, clinical rotation experiences, rural residency program development, and grant support.

We are proud to share with you, our first RETURN report summarizing our efforts and results in AY20 and AY21, please view the in-depth report here.  


Our Initiatives

Resident Engagement & Training for Underserved & Rural Needs (RETURN)

The purpose of RETURN is to increase physician trainee exposure to and awareness of rural and underserved healthcare needs in Utah. We work to develop and enhance partnerships between residency programs and clinical sites to provide two to six-week rural rotations for trainees.

Concept to Community (C2C)

The C2C contest enables GME trainees to work in an inter-professional team to develop a project that addresses  health needs of rural and underserved Utah communities. Teams may be awarded up to $5000 to bring their projects to life.

Resident as Teacher (RaT)

RaT is an elective experience for residents and students on RETURN rotations who are interested in improving their teaching skills. The ability to effectively teach is important for physicians to practice and master as every clinical encounter is an educational encounter.

Global and Rural Health Scholar Program 

The GRHSP is designed specifically for GME trainees interested in gaining exposure to and experience with global and rural health practices. This program will be delivered over a 2-year cycle that will consist of 12 modules - starting January 2021.  

Grant Support     

We offer grant writing support to program directors with sustainable, high-quality, rural residency program development as our goal. The first rural residency program in Utah and the first Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Rural Residency Program in the nation to be launched in 2022.

Rural Impact Research & Scholarships

We are conducting a qualitative study to understand the value of developing graduate medical trainee rural electives in Utah. Key stakeholders both from University of Utah Graduate Medical Education and rural Utah partner sites will be interviewed to identify the barriers and facilitators as well as perceived best practices, for a successful rural rotation.

We also saw an opportunity to understand and establish the impact of rural rotations on physician wellness, in other words, prevention of burnout. If causation or a strong correlation is proven, this relationship can propel the buy-in for physicians to engage in rural practice to the next level.

In 2019, we partnered with our sister program, RUUTE UME, and funded 18 medical students engaged in rural research projects. Beginning 2021, our goal is to identify resident/fellow interest in rural research and support the same.

Rural Awareness

We work closely with program directors to reach out to our trainees and faculty for increasing awareness of rural needs. We have increased our reach due to sponsoring the Symposium for Underserved, Rural and Global Health Conference annually. We also work closely with our partners in School of Medicine, College of Nursing, Physician Assistant programs and Utah Department of Health Office of Primary Care and Rural Health to celebrate National Rural Health Day each year.  

Why Rural?

Americans living in rural areas experience a higher level of health disparities (differences in health status when compared to the population overall) than those living in urban or suburban areas.1 In particular, rural populations experience higher incidence of disease/disability, increased mortality rates, lower life expectancy, geographic isolation, lower socioeconomic status, limited access to care (including specialists and subspecialists), and limited job opportunities.2

In Utah, 25 of the 29 counties are considered rural and have over 330,000 thousand people living within them. Utah is also one of the fastest growing states in the nation. The AAMC ranks Utah 49th in the nation for access to primary care, despite it's renowned health care systems.3 This is largely due to workforce maldistribution. Rural and underserved areas face physician shortages more acutely. Currently, to keep up with growing trends and distribute resources adequately, Utah will need to hire an average of 19 new physicians per year to maintain the current level of care within rural and underserved regions.4

We support University of Utah President, Ruth Watkins' charge to become the University FOR Utah through our GME rural initiatives.

[4] Utah Medical Education Council. Utah's Physician Workforce – 2016: A study on the supply and distribution of physicians in Utah.