The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust has awarded the UNC School of Medicine $1.5 million to launch the UNC Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative.

According to the initiative’s director, Dr. Meg Zomorodi, it will help establish clinical experiences for students while still serving the community.

“We want to place students and have them learn from the providers in these rural settings but we also want to give back to the community,” said Zomorodi. “The students will do that through projects that they’ll work alongside with the primary care practices to do.”

The trust launches a three-year pilot program which seeks to inspire a rural health care workforce and transform clinical care in underserved areas.

According to Zomorodi, working in health care in a rural setting can be vastly different than in an urban setting.

“I might tell a patient to go walk two miles a day and to eat healthy vegetables – but if I’m not aware that their nearest grocery store is a 15 mile drive or that they’re not living in an area that is safe for them to exercise, they’re not going to listen to what I have to offer,” said Zomorodi.

Students will be recruited for the program by faculty from each of the UNC Schools of Health Sciences. This initiative marks the first time that UNC students will work together in a rural healthcare setting.

“Just sitting down and saying ‘where are your students, oh we’re at the same place how can we actually work together’ is phase one of this project,” said Zomorodi.