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In a move to address both the severe statewide primary care physician shortage and the growing burden of student debt, the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix will begin providing free tuition in the spring semester to students who agree to practice primary care in a federally designated underserved community in Arizona for at least two years after completing their residency.
Arizona currently meets only 40% of its need for primary care physicians, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, and underserved areas are especially hard hit.
"Arizona needs nearly 600 primary care physicians today, and the number is expected to grow to more than 1,900 by 2030," said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences. "As the state's only two designated medical schools, the College of Medicine – Tucson and the College of Medicine – Phoenix are taking full advantage of the public investment approved by our state legislators, who recognize the time to address this shortage is now."
With a portion of $8 million in annual funding appropriated by the Arizona Legislature in May, nearly 100 students – approximately 10 percent of the student body – could receive free tuition at UArizona's two medical schools. The remaining funding is being used to expand the College of Medicine – Phoenix class size.
Under the new scholarship program's guidelines, a primary care physician is someone who successfully has completed medical school at UArizona and completed residency or fellowship training in one of the following specialties: family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatric medicine, general pediatrics, psychiatry, or obstetrics and gynecology.
"In addition to the dire need for more primary care physicians in the state, the issue of student debt is a major roadblock for many people who have the potential to be great doctors. It keeps many individuals from even applying to medical school," Dr. Dake said.
To be eligible, applicants must be an Arizona resident and current full-time medical student enrolled in one of the UArizona Colleges of Medicine. The program is now accepting applications for the College of Medicine – Phoenix and the College of Medicine – Tucson for spring 2020.
In exchange for receiving a scholarship, students will be obligated to practice clinically for at least two years in a federally designated underserved community or health professional shortage area in Arizona. The commitment must be started within six years of graduation from medical school and completed within 10 years of graduation. Once begun, service must be continuous.
"Ensuring every Arizona resident, whether in rural communities or urban cities, has access to quality health care is a top priority for Arizona," said Gov. Doug Ducey. "The University of Arizona Primary Care Physician Scholarship is another example of the innovative steps the state is taking to address this critical workforce shortage facing Arizona and the entire nation. My thanks to the University of Arizona as well as health care leaders and medical professionals across the state who continuously demonstrate their commitment to Arizona's health care industry."
"Students who graduate from the University of Arizona want to tackle important issues and meet big challenges in society," said UArizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD. "The physician shortage is a major issue facing the state and nation, and I am excited that the University of Arizona will provide scholarships for qualified medical students and get more primary care physicians into underserved areas across the state."