Jonesboro Resident Lillie Pitts Receives Scholarship to Pursue Primary Care in Rural Arkansas

By Benjamin Waldrum

Pitts graduated from Jonesboro High School and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Much of her family lives in Arkansas, where she grew up in Jonesboro and spent summers in Batesville and Cave City. She intends to pursue a career in internal medicine in Jonesboro or elsewhere in northern Arkansas.

“This state is my home and I am proud of the people that live here,” Pitts said. “Arkansans have helped shape me and are the reason I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. I want to better the lives of those in my community by giving back in the form of providing quality health care.”

Pitts served as a coordinator for the UAMS MASH (Medical Applications of Science for Health) program in Jonesboro. While shadowing physicians there, she learned about the difficulties faced by many rural Arkansans in obtaining timely medical care.

“Patients would drive over an hour just for one short appointment with primary care physicians,” she said. “These people had health problems that spiraled out of control and drastically affected their quality of life simply because they couldn’t get to a physician in a timely manner. I felt the need to go into medicine because of these patients. They taught me how limiting life can be when you can’t access adequate care.”

Arkansas Blue Cross, the state’s largest health insurer, established the endowed scholarship in 2010 with a $1 million gift to the UAMS Foundation Fund.

The scholarship is a 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’ 75 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, in partnership with the Division of Institutional Advancement, has worked with private partners such as Arkansas Blue Cross 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 recent UAMS graduates who have educational debt is about $195,000.

“We greatly appreciate Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s continued investment in our students and our efforts to produce much-needed primary care physicians for rural Arkansas,” said Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., executive vice chancellor of UAMS and dean of the College of Medicine. “Scholarships help reduce the burden of debt for future physicians like Lillie who want to serve in Arkansas communities where they are needed most.”

“Arkansas Blue Cross recognizes that people in rural parts of our state benefit greatly from better access to quality health care,” said Curtis Barnett, Arkansas Blue Cross president and chief executive officer. “That is part of the motivation behind this scholarship. We congratulate Lillie on receiving this award and commend her for her desire to serve rural Arkansans.”

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 eight 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, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community 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.