Colorado is no different from any other state in terms of the concentration of medical providers in urban areas. The majority of doctors in Colorado live and work along the Front Range, which makes sense given that the majority of the state’s population is also centered in the same area. But that leaves rural communities (and some urban areas) under-served in terms of medical care. People out on the eastern plains and along the western slope often have to travel to Denver for specialized care. And in some communities, even primary care can be hard to come by.
That’s what makes CREATE Health Scholars – a partnership between The Colorado Health Foundation and the University of Colorado Medical School – such an excellent program. The idea is to prepare young adults for college programs that will lead them to careers in healthcare in under-served areas of Colorado. Research has shown that people who grow up in rural areas and then enter healthcare professions are twice as likely as their fellow healthcare providers to work in rural areas. So the program focuses on getting rural students interested in careers in healthcare.
I’ve written before about the PCP shortage, which exists even though many patients in well-served areas (and those with good private health insurance) may be unaware of it. Compounding the problem is the often lower median income in many rural communities. There are some exceptions of course, but in general the metropolitan areas of the state have higher average incomes than the rural areas. That means that it’s likely that a higher percentage of rural families – living in areas that are already underserved in terms of healthcare providers – qualify for state and federal health insurance programs that might further limit the options in terms of healthcare providers they can see.
All of this serves to highlight the importance of programs like CREATE Health Scholars. The program is relatively new and its first group of students is now moving on to post-graduate studies in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and research. It will be interesting to look at the distribution of healthcare providers in rural areas of Colorado a decade from now. Hopefully the CREATE Health Scholars and other programs like it will have helped to close the gap between medically well-served and under-served areas of the state.