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PHSU gets $750K to develop medical residency programs in rural areas

Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) has been selected to receive a $750,000 federal grant to plan and develop a rural family medicine residency program and a “rural track” in its psychiatry program. The grant comes from the Rural and Residential Planning and Development program by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

These will be Puerto Rico’s first rural residency programs, the university announced.

The goal of these programs is to train professionals both clinically and culturally, who will commit to serving the needs of rural communities throughout their careers after graduation. As a result, access to health care professionals for rural residents of the island will improve. It is expected an estimated 100,000 residents from these areas will benefit directly.

“This significant achievement not only elevates our university but also strengthens our unwavering commitment to the well-being of the entire health care community in Puerto Rico,” PHSU President David Lenihan said. “This grant will help the university and Puerto Rico to advance in its efforts to improve health care outcomes and have a positive impact on the lives of these local and rural communities.”

Olga Rodríguez de Arzola, dean of PHSU School of Medicine, explained that a combination of factors prioritizes these rural areas, highlighting that more than half of the residents in these areas live below the federal poverty threshold.

The rural communities receiving services are areas with a shortage of health care professionals due to the lack of primary care and mental health professionals, making them medically underserved areas, according to HRSA definitions.

Rodríguez de Arzola also pointed out that more than 20% of these communities’ residents are either disabled or above the age of 65 requiring additional care.

“These communities have a vulnerable population, with a high risk of developing chronic illnesses and very limited access to health care,” Rodríguez-Arzola said. “Furthermore, the exodus of doctors and health care professionals from Puerto Rico in the last two decades has exacerbated this. On the other hand, there are currently no residency programs in rural areas, and the training of medical students in rural health is very limited. This unique project will also serve to develop clinical sites where students learn about providing health care in rural areas.”

To develop their Rural Residency Training Programs, PHSU has collaborated with a group of graduate medical education partners, including Damas Hospital, the Veterans Health Administration, and rural clinical training partners such as the Empresa Municipal Salud Integral De La Tierra Alta and the Jardín del Edén Health Center in Jayuya.


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