There is evidence to indicate that people from rural communities who become health professionals are more likely to choose to practice in rural areas after completing their formal education and to remain in rural practice for longer periods of time then their nonrural counterparts (Rabinowtiz et al., 2001). Measures to attract rural students to health careers involve enrichment of schooling for precollegiate students, ensuring that basic science is part of the curriculum and that students have positive exposure to role models and career paths in rural health care delivery. For students who choose not to enroll in health professions training, such exposure contributes to increased health literacy and lays the groundwork for local residents to become more engaged and informed participants in health promotion and health care delivery in their communities.
Over the last two decades, a great deal of attention has been focused on enhancing science education in grades K through 12 (Hart et al., 2003; NRC, 1996, 2002, 2003). In 1996, the Department of Education promulgated National Science Education Standards to serve as guidelines for states and local districts in developing their own, more specific standards, curriculum, and implementation processes. Many of the nation’s schools are enhancing their science curricula. Responses to a 2000 survey indicated that 46 states had developed new science content standards, but only 4 states required 4 science credits for graduation (compared with 18 states that required 2 credits and 16 that required 1.5–3.5 credits) (NRC, 2003). By the time of graduation, 95 percent of students had completed a biology course, 54 percent in chemistry (versus 45 percent in 1990) and 23 percent in physics (versus 20 percent in 1990). Enrollment of African Americans and Hispanics in higher-level classes continued to lag behind that of Caucasians and Asians across the board. Results specific to rural and urban areas are not available.
There are a handful of innovative programs that expose elementary and high school students from rural areas to health professions information and role models. These include programs that provide volunteer ambulance corps assignments for high school and elementary students from rural areas (New York); send teams of health professions students to teach health education and discuss careers with rural adolescents at 4-H summer camps (Tennessee); enroll minority and lower-income high school students in the Health Sciences and Technology Academy; and provide summer health careers education through local science clubs (West Virginia) (Gamm et al., 2002). The Academy also supports science teachers by helping them learn better teaching skills to maintain their students’ interest in science and math. Formal