UAMS Medical Students Receive Scholarships Aimed at Improving Primary Care

By Ben Boulden

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, made these scholarships possible with a $1 million gift in 2010 to the UAMS Foundation Fund to establish the endowed scholarship.

Nora Gibbons, who grew up in Ozark and Stuttgart, Ark., and Lauren Lavender, from Little Rock, are this year’s recipients of the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Primary Care Scholarship. The scholarship has been presented to two UAMS College of Medicine juniors or seniors annually since 2012.

The scholarship is part of a broad effort to produce more family medicine, general internal medicine and general pediatrics doctors for Arkansas, especially in rural areas where access to primary care is limited. More than two-thirds of Arkansas’ counties include federally designated Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Primary care physician shortages are expected to increase substantially as the state’s population continues to age and require more medical care, and as more Arkansans, now insured as a result of health insurance expansion, seek primary care services.

The College of Medicine has worked with private partners such as Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to increase scholarships. The high cost of medical school and the burden of educational debt that most medical students face when entering their postgraduate residency training can be a factor in choosing higher-paying specialties instead of primary care and practicing in rural areas. The average medical school debt of the 2015 UAMS graduates who have educational debt is $179,673.

“The College of Medicine is taking a number of steps to ensure that all Arkansans, regardless of where they live, will have access to high-quality primary care services in the years ahead,” said College of Medicine Dean Pope L. Moseley, M.D. “Targeted scholarships help us to encourage future physicians to pursue primary care careers in our state’s smaller communities. We are grateful to Blue Cross and Blue Shield for this endowed scholarship.”

“On behalf of our members, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield is focused on the issue of access to quality health care and believes that this scholarship award partially addresses that concern,” said Mark White, the company’s president and CEO. “If we consider the future and the additional Arkansans who will be receiving necessary care as result of the Affordable Care Act, our investment is going to make an incremental difference as we seek solutions to improving the health status of all of our citizens.”

“We congratulate Nora and Lauren as recipients of this year’s award and wish them continued success on their path to providing quality primary care,” White said.

Gibbons graduated from Stuttgart High School and received her undergraduate degree at Hendrix College in Conway. She plans to train in family medicine after graduating from UAMS in May 2016. Gibbons is considering following in her grandfather’s footsteps to practice in Ozark, in northwestern Arkansas, where much of her family lives, or in a medically underserved area of the Delta in southeastern Arkansas.

“As a child, I would ride my scooter to my grandfather’s clinic after school and relish in the hustle and bustle of the place,” Gibbons said. “I was inspired by the close doctor-patient relationship that he had developed with many members of the community.”

Gibbons has “shadowed” and worked alongside family physicians in Magnolia and Clarksville during medical school, increasing her appreciation for the role of primary care doctors in small communities.

Gibbons is a member of the Rural Medicine Student Leadership Association and the Family Medicine Interest Group at UAMS. She has been an active volunteer at the Harmony Health free clinic in Little Rock.

“I have a strong desire to help those at the fringes of their communities,” Gibbons said. “Primary care, in my opinion, is the best way to reach those communities and provide the quality of care that may be missing.”

Lavender graduated from Mount Saint Mary Academy in Little Rock and received her undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She plans to train in general internal medicine after graduating from medical school. She and her fiancé, also a UAMS senior medical student, are exploring potential communities in which to settle after completing their medical residencies, including Arkadelphia and Heber Springs.

“I always imagined myself as a primary care physician,” said Lavender. “My father is a general internal medicine physician, so I am familiar with the lifestyle and broad scope of practice.”

“After our first year of medical school, my fiancé and I spent a month in Arkadelphia for a primary care preceptorship,” Lavender said. “We worked in a clinic with four family medicine physicians, seeing patients with them and observing procedures. We loved living in a smaller town for that month and felt that we got a good understanding of what it would be like to practice primary care in a rural town.”

Lavender has been involved in the Internal Medicine Interest Group, Rural Medicine Student Leadership Association, and the Harmony Health Clinic.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.