As I read about Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to end state funding for 70 programs because they “weren’t vital or haven’t provided a good return on investment,” I realized that Professional Education Preparation within the Council on Postsecondary Education — better known as PEPP — was on this list.
Bevin must not realize what a gem this program is to our state or what purpose it serves, and what a grave mistake it would be to cut it.
Since 1982, PEPP has been providing students from rural counties with a head start in the pre-medical and pre-dental fields. The goal is to better prepare students from rural areas to enter a professional field, and increase the number of physicians and dentists later practicing in underserved areas.
Forty students are selected to attend a five-week program at the University of Kentucky in the summer before their first year of college. The participants are introduced to multiple medical fields — labor and delivery, emergency medicine and dentistry. They take coursework in chemistry and biology to better prepare for college study and attend seminars in cancer research, organ transplants, genetics and other current topics.
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They work and volunteer at clinical sites like Eastern State psychiatric hospital, Cardinal Hill, nursing homes and special-needs camps. These experiences promote empathy, philanthropy and help create future doctors who truly want to give back.
Graduates have a 70 percent acceptance rate into medical and dental schools. In my scholar cohort, 23 of 40 students are now practicing dentists, doctors, physician assistants or pharmacists. The program has similar statistics for each of its 36 years.
PEPP puts small-town people into big spotlights. Dr. Zach Warriner, from Barbourville, is now a trauma and surgical critical care fellow at Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center. Dr. Randaline Barnett, from Breathitt County, is currently studying neurosurgery at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Derrick Stitt, from Robertson County, is the current chief resident of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
All plan to return to Kentucky to practice medicine.
I became a PEPP scholar after graduating from Boyd County High School in 2004. Entering college, I was able to use the connections I made to form study groups with other rural students. The encouragement we received from one another motivated us to succeed in a demanding field. It kept us from feeling alone or giving up, something that happens far too often in college, especially to youth from rural communities.
Kentucky is struggling to provide medical care to its rural citizens. Why would we cut such a lifeline for future doctors? Why would we stop providing opportunities for the gifted youth of Appalachia to excel and give back in their own communities? PEPP more than pays for itself, over and over.
A high percentage of PEPP students attend college in Kentucky, fueling the education, food and housing industries through tuition and living expenses paid right here in the state. And a high percentage of those same students become medical professionals in Kentucky, providing jobs for themselves and innumerable staff. Even more importantly, they raise the quality of health care for Kentucky residents.
There is no greater “return on investment” than one that supports the future of health care in our state.
Emily Nichols Monsma is a dentist in Louisville. She graduated from Boyd County High School and the University of Kentucky.