Recruiting students to grow the rural health care workforce

Mariava Phillips, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

May 22, 2024

Inspire, recruit, train and retain.

Inspire, recruit, train and retain. That’s one of the goals behind the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Rural Pharmacy Health Initiative.The initiative, launched by the School with support from Carolina Across 100, works with the School’s Pharm.D. recruitment team to attract students from rural counties in an effort to grow the rural health care workforce across North Carolina.

Jana Thompson, director of Pharm.D. recruitment, and Hannah Amundson, assistant director of Pharm.D. recruitment, are typically the first faces prospective students see.

“I’ve always been passionate about providing access to education to underrepresented populations,” Thompson said.

“I come from a rural town in Minnesota, so serving rural students in navigating career opportunities is something that I’m really excited about,” Amundson said.

While Thompson covers the Eastern part of the state and Amundson the Western region, they’ve found the rural students they interact with have a similar desire to come back to their hometown after earning their degrees. However, many are not aware of what a career in pharmacy looks like—or that it’s even a possibility for them. That’s where the recruitment team comes in.

“It’s key to educate prospective students in rural communities that it is possible to obtain a doctor of pharmacy and that there are a variety of opportunities for pharmacists,” Thompson said.

For rural recruitment, Thompson collaborates with the Office of Rural Initiatives at the UNC School of Medicine. They have a program called SERVE, which stands for Southeastern Rural Vocational Experiences. SERVE provides opportunities for Thompson to interact with prospective students by going to high schools and also being part of a health career expo at Cape Fear Community College.

Amundson partners with the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in Asheville, North Carolina. The majority of counties in the west are classified as rural, and Amundson has noticed that students are really excited to learn that pharmacy is a great career path that can lead them back home.

Although 52% of the School’s current Pharm.D. students are from North Carolina, Thompson and Amundson hope to grow the number of students from rural counties.

“It’s particularly exciting to be recruiting Pharm.D. students who will be the next generation of pharmacists across North Carolina,” Amundson said.

Carolina Across 100 is a five-year Carolina initiative housed at the School of Government’s ncIMPACT Initiative. This pan-University effort, guided by the Carolina Engagement Council, will form meaningful partnerships with communities in all 100 North Carolina counties to respond to challenges stemming from or exacerbated by COVID-19. “Our State, Our Work” is the first program of Carolina Across 100, connecting young adults to living wage employment opportunities. “Our State, Our Wellbeing” is the second program, focused on improving mental health and reducing suicide in North Carolina. The Rural Pharmacy Health Initiative (RPHI) is our latest program, focused on growing the rural health care work force.