OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma State University officials on Wednesday announced a six-year, $3.8 million grant from the state's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to help fund a medical residency program in mostly rural parts of the state.
OSU President Burns Hargis said the money from the trust fund will be matched with $5.6 million in federal funding through the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
"Oklahoma ranks nearly dead last in the number of primary care physicians per capita," Hargis said during a press conference outside the state Capitol. "It is especially acute in rural Oklahoma and in the underserved areas.
"The grant will mean a new team of primary care doctors serving communities for years to come."
The money will be used to establish medical residency programs in Ada, Ardmore, Lawton, McAlester, Norman and Oklahoma City.
Hargis said because doctors tend to practice in close proximity to where they complete their residency training, he said the hope is that many of the participants will end up opening a practice in a rural community.
Jesse Arthur, a third-year medical student at Oklahoma State from Pauls Valley, said he hopes to participate in the program.
"It really excites me, because I want to go back and practice in a rural area," said Arthur, 26. "Having these residencies in those rural areas allows us to actually go out and be in the community. You kind of become a part of that community, and that's important in getting us to stay there."
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is a constitutionally protected fund established by a vote of the people in 2000 to use interest from tobacco industry lawsuit settlement funds to pay for health care and anti-tobacco initiatives. The fund has a current balance of about $1 billion.
Last week, state Sen. Bryce Marlatt proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to tap some of the fund to pay for a teacher pay raise, but House Speaker Jeff Hickman was hesitant to endorse that idea Wednesday.
"I would have to read the specifics of this proposal, ... but my initial reaction is that there are numerous things that have to be priorities for us to deal with as legislators, and you have to have a long-term plan," Hickman said. "You obviously can't raid money to pay for something one year and then wonder how you're going to pay for it the next year."
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy