Medical education for African American communities in the rural South: A focus group approach to identify fundamental considerations

John R. Wheat, Antonio J. Gardner, Laura H. Downey, Melissa S. Cox, Gwendolyn J. Johnson, Susan M. Guin, James D. Leeper, Cynthia E. Moore, John E. Brandon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: We sought to understand concerns fundamental to planning medical education specific to rural southern African Americans who are virtually nonexistent in American medical schools. Methods: A diverse multidisciplinary research team conducted this qualitative study with 3 focus groups, including 17 rural medical educators recruited nationwide, 10 African American alumni of a rural medical education pipeline in Alabama, and 5 community and institutional associates of this pipeline. Analysis of recorded transcripts generated themes fitting an ecological model suggesting concerns and intervention foci at individual, community, and institutional levels. Findings: Three major themes operating at all ecological levels were: (1) How “rural minority student” is defined, with “rural” often supplanting race to indicate minority status; (2) Multiple factors relate to rural racial minority student recruitment and success, including personal relationships with peers, mentors, and role models and supportive institutional policies and culturally competent faculty; and (3) Challenges to recruitment and retention of rural minority students, especially financial concerns and preparation for medical education. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that individuals, communities, and institutions provide intervention points for planning medical education specific to southern rural African Americans. These spheres of influence project a need for partnership among communities and rural medical educators to affect broad programmatic and policy changes that address the dire shortage of rural African American health professionals to help ameliorate health inequities experienced in their home communities. It is likely that linear thinking and programming will be replaced by integrated, intertwined conceptualizations to reach this goal.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rural Health
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Southern rural African American
  • health care disparities
  • health care planning
  • population health
  • rural medical education


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