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UF sending med students to rural areas

Medical students at the University of Florida (UF) will work 20,000 hours next year in public and private clinics scattered throughout 37 counties, school officials said. The idea behind the massive campaign is to sell students on the virtues of smalltown life and to get them thinking about community medical practice before they commit themselves to other career tracks.

Alachua County is the only one of the 37 northern Florida counties that has adequate medical service, said Ocie Harris, the medical school's associate dean for community-based programs at the UF College of Medicine.

Dean Allen Neims said, "Report after report has said the country needs people for primary care and it needs people to practice in rural areas, and it needs the primary care in rural areas the most."

The medical school has just received a federal grant of nearly $2.17-million to expand dramatically its Area Health Education Centers program. The three-year grant will be spent on a new curriculum that calls for students to start getting clinical experience their first term of medical school instead of waiting until the third year, Harris said.

Medical residents and nursing graduate students will log 5,000 hours in community clinics next year.

Students in other health professions, including dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, physicians' assistants, will also take part in the program.