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University of Oklahoma Receives $16 Million Federal Grant to Train Medical Students from Underserved Areas in Oklahoma


University of Oklahoma Receives $16 Million Federal Grant to Train Medical Students from Underserved Areas in Oklahoma

October 23, 2023

NORMAN, OKLA. – The University of Oklahoma will receive $16 million over four years from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to recruit, retain, and graduate medical students from Tribal, rural and medically underserved communities in Oklahoma, with the goal that those students will go on to practice in their home communities.

“This award will enable OU Health Sciences to greatly expand our recruitment of medical students from Tribal and rural Oklahoma for the benefit of Oklahomans and will be a significant step in our efforts to reduce health disparities across the state,” OU Health Sciences Senior Vice President and Provost Gary Raskob said.

The initiative, “The Tribal, Rural, and Medically Underserved Communities in Oklahoma Pathways Program” or TRU-OK, is jointly administered between the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine on the OU Health Sciences campus in Oklahoma City and the OU-TU School of Community Medicine in Tulsa. Jim Barrett, MD, CAQ-Sports Medicine is the principal investigator of the grant.

“We are thrilled about this grant and are excited to partner with communities across Oklahoma,” said Barrett, Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor and Family Medicine Chair, OU College of Medicine. “One of the unique aspects of this grant is that it is focused on enhancing medical student education by creating curricula that emphasizes how primary care can improve the health of all Oklahomans, particularly those in underserved and rural locations. I believe that through our amazing partnerships we will be able to highlight the power of primary care for future and current medical students and build the primary care workforce for our state.”

Mary Gowin, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, OU College of Medicine, and co-investigator for the project, says the grant will help fill a significant need for primary care medical services in underserved areas of the state.

“We rank 47th in the nation in terms of primary care access, and we have two counties in the whole state that are not classified as primary care health profession shortage areas, so really, this is so vital,” Gowin said. “Approximately 41% of our Oklahoma population lives in rural cities and towns. We also have the largest number of federally recognized tribes at 38, and Tribal land makes up about 43% of the state's landmass. Having primary care in these areas is vital to the health and economic well-being of our state.”

“Some of our counties, or areas within an urban county, are being underserved because all the health care is concentrated around a few hospitals or health systems,” added Frances K. Wen, Ph.D., co-investigator, professor and director of research for the Department of Family and Community Medicine, OU-TU School of Community Medicine.

Creating the Pathway

To increase the primary care workforce in TRU-OK areas, the project team plans to address barriers students face to entering medical school. The initiative will create an online pre-medical program to give students a broad range of tools and resources to support their application to medical school, such as study materials and interview preparation resources.

“The pre-medical program is a brand new effort that will significantly help people who are interested in going into medical school,” Erin Ellis, TRU-OK program manager, said. “For someone who's perhaps gone to college, gotten a bachelor’s degree, but decides later in life they want to go to medical school, this is going to be a perfect opportunity for them to be able to get all of the information and the coursework required to go back to school.”

“Some of the students who come from Tribal, rural, and underserved communities are first-generation college students, let alone first-generation entering into a health professional school,” Wen added. “They may discover later on in their trajectory that this is something that they're really interested in and excited about, and the pre-medical program allows them to explore and prepare themselves for a career in medicine.”

The project also supports financial need through scholarships for students from Tribal, rural, and medically underserved communities to attend medical school at OU. Other avenues of financial support include stipends for participation in primary care research experiences and travel to primary care conferences.

Partnering for Success

The team is also working with several academic, Tribal, and hospital partners to facilitate expanded opportunities for students to gain experience in primary care, social determinants of health, vulnerable populations, and trauma-informed care, as well as opportunities to do rotations and clerkships and electives in underserved areas across Oklahoma.

“We have already been closely partnering with the Muscogee Creek Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Hillcrest HealthCare Systems and Jackson County Memorial Hospital, and we plan to continue and expand those relationships,” said Gowin. “In addition, we have brought on new partners (Integris Health, SSM Health, Variety Care, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and Langston University). We're very excited about building that network up and having strong relationships with our partners who provide care or education in these areas.”

This broad partner network supports outreach and training opportunities spanning TRU-OK communities and is a key to the project’s success.

“The School of Community Medicine is proud to be a major participant in this new HRSA grant project,” OU-TU School of Community Medicine Dean James M. Herman MD, MSPH, said. “We look forward to expanding our tribal and health system partnerships as we continue to bring talented new medical students, physician assistant students, and resident physicians in numerous specialties from many communities in Oklahoma and beyond to our school.”

 “We just love that the acronym TRU-OK is able to really reflect what we feel, which is that this is truly for Oklahoma, and we feel really proud of being able to be a part of a program that's aimed at helping all of Oklahoma,” Gowin said.

Learn more about the OU-TU School of Community Medicine and the OU College of Medicine.

Oklahoma high school students simulating performing a tracheotomy.
Oklahoma high school students practicing removing a cast under supervision.
Oklahoma high school students listening to each other’s heartbeats.
An Oklahoma high school student listening to a heartbeat during the OU College of Medicine’s simulation event.

About the Project 

The project, “Value-Based Medical Student Education Training Program,” began on Sept. 30, 2023, with funding expected through June 30, 2027. This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of an award, #T9952111, totaling $15,999,997 over four years, with 10% financed with nongovernmental sources. The contents are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. As the state’s flagship university, OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. OU was named the state’s highest-ranking university in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent Best Colleges list. For more information about the university, visit