Buchanan stated that many residents avoided the doctor’s office unless they were in “dire straits”. If they needed to, they drove to Meridian or Jackson. Elderly patients could pay for another person to drive them. He was welcomed by the community. He said, “It was absolutely a wonderful welcome.” “My parents still live there. They are like many of the people who raised me and taught me. It was exciting to be away for a while for medical school, residency, college, and then return, it was great.” Buchanan is one 55-year-old practicing alumni of Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program. In 2008, the scholarship was launched with 10 recipients. The goal of the scholarship is to address the state’s shortage in medical providers by one rural doctor at time. Half of Mississippians live within medically underserved areas, which have more than 2000 people per primary care doctor. According to the Primary Care Needs Assessment of the health department, there were no such doctors in four counties, Benton, Carroll and Kemper. The state requires 323 additional primary care doctors in areas that are underserved to close this gap. Only a quarter of the program alumni who completed their service requirement are still working in Mississippi. The scholarship program is growing. There are 64 residents, 64 medical students, and 67 people still finishing their bachelor’s degrees behind the 55 alumni. Wahnee Sherman, the program’s executive director, stated that it takes nine years to become a doctor. This year, 65 scholarships were awarded across four years of medical school. For every year that they receive the money, recipients must spend one year in Mississippi. For sophomores in college, the program offers a two-year “nurturing” phase. They receive academic support, preparation for the Medical College Admissions Exam (MCAT), and guidance when applying to medical school. They can be admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMSC) or William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine, with an annual funding of $35,000. If they keep their grades up and score well on MCAT, they will be eligible for admission. The scholarship is also available to current or admitted medical students, who have not participated in the undergraduate program. Undergraduates are involved in “medical encounters,” which allow them to learn more about the profession. About 20 students traveled to William Carey on Monday for a day’s class. The majority of scholarship recipients attend the University of Mississippi Medical Center. However, a few students enroll each year at WCUCOM. This school was established about a decade ago and focuses on primary care medicine. Christian Hollis and Taylor Lampkin, a University of Mississippi classmate, sat in a small examination room Monday morning. Both wore white lab coats with green embroidery that featured the slogan of the scholarship program. Hollis was born in a heart condition. His family drove the two-hour round trip from Morton to Jackson approximately twice per year so Hollins could visit his heart doctors. This experience taught him that geography can be a barrier and a burden to patients who are in dire need of medical care. Hollis, now a junior in high school, dreams of being able to practice medicine closer to home. Hollis also hopes to own a farm, just like his grandfather who kept chickens, donkeys, and cows. He spoke of his grandfather’s farm, saying that he still goes out there. I want to have a lot of land, and be able to keep animals there. It’s impossible to do that in California or any other big city. Hollis and Lampkin had their patient, an artificially intelligent knee joint, lying on the table. Dr. John Gaudet was a Hattiesburg pediatrician who is now a full-time instructor. He showed them how to remove fluid from the knees and how to insert a needle. Hollis thought back to the time his mother went to the doctor when her knee was swelling. He said, “I saw the doctor perform what we just did.” According to the 2021 report of the Association of American Medical Colleges on physician workforce, Mississippi ranks 49th among primary care physicians per capita. Utah is second. This trend has a local and national explanation. Specialists are more well-paid in the United States. They earn on average $150,000 more than primary-care doctors. The WCUCOM dean, Dr. ItaloSubbarao, stated that specialty care like neurology or plastic surgery is “what’s glamorous in medicine.” He said, “We try to demonstrate people the power of family doctors can do.” It is the number one school in the country in terms of the percentage of graduates who are able to practice in rural areas. The third is UMMC. Second, Mississippi’s higher-education graduates tend to move on. According to a recent audit by the state auditor, less than half of recent graduates from public universities worked in Mississippi in 2020. Steven Smith is a second year student at WCUCOM. He grew up in Terry. Both his parents were volunteer firefighters and he accompanied them to car wrecks, fires and other events as a child. His parents would take him to firetrucks and he would play with the hoses. He then would ask his parents what happened after the ambulance took him away. He was told that the people were taken to the doctor and made better. Smith thought, “Well, if they are who makes ’em improve, that’s what i want to do.” Smith hasn’t considered moving to Mississippi but knows that many people who have his education would. He said, “A lot people use that to their way out.” Ti Smith from Okolona, his classmate, said that they are doing the opposite. Steven Carter, the associate director of the scholarship program said that the COVID-19 epidemic highlighted the importance family doctors who are rooted in their local communities. State leaders such as Dr. Thomas Dobbs were the most prominent face of Mississippi’s response to the pandemic. Scholarship alumni were intubating patients at their small rural ICUs and then running to interviews with local television stations to share health advice. Buchanan also saw patients at the hospital and performed rounds during the pandemic. Buchanan advocated masking and offered telehealth. Buchanan began to talk about vaccines whenever he saw a patient after they became available. He said, “My patients trust my medical care.” They trust me to know the most current and proven information. Many patients didn’t even think of getting vaccinated until I visited them to discuss the details. They were so impressed by my commitment to vaccination that they were happy to receive it.” Mississippi has a huge need for doctors. To fill this gap, it would require hundreds of additional doctors. Can one person make a difference? Sherman believes that the stories of Buchanan, and other alumni, make it clear. She said, “When you go to these communities that haven’t had a new physician in 20, 25 or more years, you can see the impact right away.” Talking to Mississippi alumni and students involved in the scholarship program, it seems that the state’s data about brain drain is confusing. No one seems to have thought of leaving. Kayla Redmond, a Mississippi University of Women junior, said that she always wanted to remain in Mississippi after graduating. “I am a country girl. I have traveled outside of the US. It’s not welcoming.” Many of the participants come from rural areas. They are all from different parts of the state but share the belief that their community deserves the best healthcare. Khadeejah Franklin (a University of Mississippi junior hailing from Vancleave) and Lauren Sumrall (a Mississippi College junior whose parents are in Poplarville & Purvis), talked about their hopes and dreams during Monday’s activities. Franklin would like to be able to practice in Vancleave, so that people don’t need to travel as far to get care. Sumrall would like to open rural labor and delivery clinics. She stated, “I don’t believe anyone should have to drive 45 mins in labor.” Franklin agreed, “Wherever you live, it shouldn’t determine–” “The quality of your care,” Franklin said.