Meharry Medical College and Middle Tennessee State University have come up with a plan that they believe could help close the healthcare gap between Tennessee's cities and its rural areas.
The two schools are teaming up to offer a medical education in just six years — a deal so good, they hope it'll entice some of the nation's brightest students to pursue careers in some of the state's least-served places.
The goal of the partnership, says Meharry President James Hildreth, is to attract smart kids with a passion for serving the rural poor.
"The real magic here is finding students who come from these places who have a desire to go back and serve their communities," he says. "Those students are out there and they're truly exceptional, and we want to find them."
The partnership between Meharry and MTSU promises to turn freshmen into doctors two years faster than the traditional path through medical school, and the state of Tennessee is putting up $750,000 for scholarships to further sweeten the deal. The only catch is students who receive aid have to work at least two years in an underserved area after graduation.
The program provides a shot of prestige to MTSU, which doesn't have a medical school and has been working to bolster its honors programs. It also helps Meharry, which was founded to educate African-American health professionals and continues to see serving the disadvantaged as core to its mission.
Eventually, the schools hope to have 20 students a year pass through the program.
But the admission standards will be high. Officials say completing an undergraduate and a medical education in six years will take a special breed of student.
"The kind of student that we're seeking ... the reality is, that student could go anywhere," says Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. "And I think that this partnership is going to offer another opportunity to keep our best and brightest right here in the state."