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Rural Health Certificate Program at College of Pharmacy to Graduate First Cohort


Kassidy Kirkman, a fourth-year Pharmacy student, grew up in a small town in western Arkansas, where she saw firsthand the crucial role pharmacists play in rural communities. In May 2024, Kirkman will be among the first students to graduate having completed the Rural Health Certificate program offered by UT Health Science Center College of Pharmacy.

Kassidy Kirkman

The Rural Health Certificate promotes access to health care and pharmacy services in rural areas. It prepares future pharmacists with the expertise needed to practice in diverse rural health care settings by incorporating pharmacy curricula, experiential learning, and rural pharmacy partnerships.

The College of Pharmacy at UT Health Science Center launched the Rural Health Certificate program in 2020 to tackle the increasing demand for pharmacists in rural areas. As Tennessee is over 90% rural, it is crucial for its statewide academic health care university to address this issue and ensure access to health care in these communities. Under the leadership of Tyler Melton, PharmD, assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, the certificate program is specifically tailored to address health disparities in rural areas and is designed to help future pharmacists like Kirkman tackle much-needed health care issues facing rural communities. The College of Pharmacy has 39 students in the certificate program, with the first nine graduating in May.

Approximately 46 million Americans, over 15% of the population, reside in rural areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies conducted by the CDC reveal that individuals living in rural America experience more health care disparities than those in urban areas. Statistics indicate that rural Americans are at a higher risk of dying from illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other ailments. Rural populations tend to be older than their urban counterparts. This and long travel distances to health care centers contribute to a health care crisis in rural America.

“In a rural health care environment, the pharmacist can impact these patients and really help motivate them to be more concerned about their health care,” says Kirkman. “Pharmacists see patients quite frequently, which allows us to build a personal connection with them compared to just seeing them once or twice a year during a visit. This puts us in a perfect position to influence our patients, keep them on track, hold them accountable for their needs, and follow up with any issues they may have. This is especially important in areas with limited health care access, such as rural communities.”

Kirkman, far left, and Dr. Melton, fourth from left, are pictured with pharmacy students in the rural health certificate program. The program prepares future pharmacists to address health disparities and promote access to health care and pharmacy services in rural areas.

“I could not be prouder of their progress and growth throughout their time in pharmacy school and in the graduate certificate program,” says Dr. Melton. “The Rural Health Certificate Program went through three phases: curriculum development, building rotation site capacity in rural areas through pharmacy partnerships and collaborations, and enhancing research on rural health disparities and rural pharmacy practice. The program launches its newest phase pertaining to rural workforce development as these nine students graduate with PharmDs and the Rural Health Certificate.”

Rural pharmacists and the services they provide can be lifesaving in areas with limited access to health care options. This is because pharmacists are often the most accessible health care professionals in rural communities and are uniquely equipped to help manage patients in these areas.

“When I saw that there was this new rural health certificate program, it really caught my eye because growing up in a small town, you must travel 30 minutes to an hour to receive any specialty care, especially for my grandparents or older adults,” says Kirkman. “Personally, I’m familiar with being in a rural area outside of a big city. Those are also the patients that I want to serve in the future. So, I knew that that program would give me the necessary skills to pursue that.”

Kirkman will graduate from the College of Pharmacy May 13 and begin her first-year residency. Following her residency, Kirkman plans to use her PharmD to bring quality health care to underserved populations and make a lasting impact in communities like the small town she calls home.