Local Physicians Talk Rural Medicine | PCOM South Georgia
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Local Physicians Talk Rural Medicine 
Scholarships, Loan Repayment and Way of Life

February 13, 2023

With 16.8 percent of Georgia residents living in rural areas and only 8 percent of Georgia physicians practicing in rural areas, PCOM South Georgia established roots to increase the number of rural providers in the state.

Moultrie is a rural town in South Georgia. It’s flooded with agriculture and, since 2019, has been home to a medical school that focuses on training students to serve underserved populations.

According to The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), there are three critical ways to increase the number of rural physicians: recruit medical students from rural backgrounds, teach skills needed in rural settings and provide necessary funding for rural medical education.

PCOM South Georgia has been training its students in a rural setting to encourage them to practice in underserved areas. In addition to offering articulation and affiliation agreements with regional institutions, the College hosts pathway programs with underrepresented youth and partners with nearby health systems for clinical rotations and post-graduate residency positions.

Infographic showing text and icons related to the low number of Georgia physicians practicing in rural areas
Click to enlarge

Many of the regional physicians who practice in rural areas such as Moultrie and Tifton encourage PCOM South Georgia students to consider rural medicine upon graduation from medical school.

“Oftentimes we think of the challenges that accompany rural medicine such as working with limited resources, but working in a rural area can be very rewarding,” said Jasmine Render (DO ‘25). “Students may not realize that many rural areas will pay back student loans or that they may be able to practice with more autonomy than in an urban area.”

That autonomy is exactly what keeps Frederick Powell, MD, director of anesthesiology at Colquitt Regional Medical Center, interested in practicing in underserved areas.

“I love the autonomy of working in a rural hospital,” Dr. Powell said. “The rural community hospital provided me the opportunity to be myself, be autonomous and build relationships.”

Like many physicians, it wasn’t a passion for rural medicine that brought Randall Sisam, DO, to underserved areas—it was student loan payback. Many organizations, such as the National Health Service Corps, provide loan repayment and scholarships for medical students who practice in rural or underserved areas after graduation.

And while medical school loan repayment was his initial motivator, 14 years later Dr. Sisam is still working in rural medicine, most recently as the primary care skills director at PCOM South Georgia.

“I encourage people to give rural communities a chance,” Dr. Sisam said. “There are so many relationships and opportunities in those areas. The people you meet and the friendships you build are so rewarding.”

Attending a medical school with a mission to train rural physicians—like PCOM South Georgia—increases the likelihood that students will go into rural practice according to the AAFP. And Jessica Mitchum, DO, is a testament to that statistic.

Dr. Mitchum, a PCOM Georgia graduate, is a family medicine physician who practices in South Georgia at Colquitt Regional Medical Center. Dr. Mitchum is also on staff as a teaching faculty at Georgia South Family Medicine Residency Program where she educates and trains residents in the rural setting of Moultrie.

“I completed my residency in Moultrie and wanted to stay here to practice in a rural area,” she said. “People’s access to care is limited, so when they come to you, you have to treat so much more than you would think. You have to be valuable and adapt. You have to be able to build relationships in these rural areas.”

While many physicians come from large cities and have to adapt to rural settings, that wasn’t the case for Wes Ross, MD, ophthalmologist with South Georgia North Florida Eye Partners. Originally from Tifton, he knew he wanted to complete his medical training and return as a physician to his hometown.

“It can be intimidating,” Dr. Ross said. ”People don’t want to travel for specialists, so you’re often treating a lot of other things outside of your scope. I see so many unique and rare conditions in rural medicine.”

Tift and Colquitt Counties are both designated as rural areas according to the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center. With Tift having 135 physicians for its population of 40,571 and Moultrie having only 66 physicians for its population of 45,592, the need for rural physicians remains. Partnerships between regional health systems such as Tift Regional Medical Center, Colquitt Regional Medical Center and PCOM South Georgia continue to work to fill that need by recruiting and training medical students in South Georgia.

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  • About PCOM South Georgia

    Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia, an additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia. PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution which trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the South Georgia region. The medical campus, which welcomed its inaugural class of medical students in August 2019, has received accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association's Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. For more information, visit pcom.edu/southgeorgia or call 229-668-3110.

    For more information, contact:
    Jordan Roberts
    Public Relations and Social Media Manager
    Email: jordanro1@pcom.edu
    Office: 229-668-3198 | Cell: 229-873-2003

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