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Scholarship aims to draw new doctors back to their rural roots

Physician recruiter Karrie Schipper (right), says scholarship recipient Jonna Maas (left) is just what she looks for in a physician. (Photo: Angelic Jewel Photography)

For most students, committing to medical school comes with a hefty price tag, the weight of which can be overwhelming.

Enter Avera Marshall. For six years, the regional medical center in southwestern Minnesota has been working to lift that weight in hopes of inspiring future doctors to return to the area.

The key word is “return.” That’s because Avera Marshall’s generous scholarships are granted to first-year medical students who hail from Marshall, Minn., and its surrounding counties. Yet, there are no strings attached.

“There is no payback, no commitment — this is purely a gift,” says Karrie Schipper, physician recruiter for the Avera Medical Group. “When medical students complete medical school and residency, the average amount of their loans is $160,000. We’re hoping that this scholarship is a start toward relieving this daunting amount.”

One scholarship — based on financial need, as well as GPA and a personal letter — is awarded each year to a student at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus, which specializes in training doctors in rural medical care.

The selected recipient receives $12,000 for the first year of medical school, then $4,000 each year after that, dependent on academic performance, for a total of $24,000. (Avera Marshall annually awards an identical scholarship to a student at the University of South Dakota’s medical school in Vermillion.)

Yet the scholarship is just the beginning. “One of the scholarship’s advantages is that I’ve gotten to know Schipper and Mary Maertens [president and CEO of Avera Marshall] very well,” says scholarship recipient Jonna Maas, a third-year medical student from Walnut Grove, Minn. Through emails, phone calls, annual scholarship dinners, and more, Maas interacts regularly with Avera Marshall physicians and administrators — many of whom she got to know during a summer internship as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

“Jonna is a perfect role model for what we look for in a physician,” says Schipper. “She’s got one of those magnetic personalities. She’s kind and compassionate and has Midwestern values. She also grew up on a cattle farm in rural Minnesota and got to experience rural health care, and she wants an opportunity to give back to the rural area. She’s a phenomenal person, and she’ll do well no matter where she goes.”

Of course, the staff at Avera Marshall hopes she’ll return to the area. Schipper points out that the United States is facing a serious shortage of primary care and rural physicians and that attracting new doctors to the area is crucial.

“We offer competitive compensation packages and the lifestyle many new physicians are looking for,” she says. “When you’re on call in a rural community, you can go home and sleep in your own bed.”

Avera Marshall offers an additional incentive: For doctors who sign on with the medical center, they often offer loan forgiveness, certainly a draw for up-and-coming physicians like Maas.

In the meantime, Maas is grateful for her scholarship. “The reality is that medical school is expensive, and there is no time to work a job and no summers off,” she says. “It’s very humbling to know I have support from Avera Marshall. It’s such an honor and so appreciated.”

By Karin Miller

To learn more about creating a scholarship at the University of Minnesota Medical School, contact Teri McIntyre at 612-625-5976 or t.mcintyre@mmf.umn.edu.

To make a gift, visit www.mmf.umn.edu/giveto/medicalstudents.

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