At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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“At the University of Kentucky, we know that working together – across disciplines and across the Commonwealth – is the best way to ensure real, positive change for those we serve,” UK Provost David Blackwell said following the Northern Kentucky Campus’s ribbon- cutting ceremony this fall. “Thanks to the collaboration and enthusiastic support from so many leaders from NKU and St. Elizabeth, as well as from citizens throughout Northern Kentucky, we have effectively and efficiently found an answer in meeting this important need in training more physicians for Kentucky.”

The College of Medicine’s main campus in Lexington garners a deep applicant pool and continues to meet capacity. Both Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky campuses offer more options for prospective medical students to seek education in the Commonwealth. They also incorporate the same educational opportunities offered at the main campus in Lexington, but with other advantages that stem from being housed on a smaller campus such as smaller class sizes, scholarships, more one-on-one opportunities with instructors, and the chance to live and work in two regions experiencing exponential growth.

The location of our regional campuses – at the northern and southwestern ends of the state – is an advantage in itself. First, we are able to capitalize on the existing resources and institutions that are already anchors in their communities. Second, each campus is located in a unique geographical setting which includes several counties that are medically underserved.

“By practicing in a community setting instead of a large academic medical center, the students at the regional campuses will be in a unique position to understand how a lot of health problems are community problems,” Dr. Griffith said in a 2017 UK Medicine article.

At full capacity, the campuses are projected to make for a total of 260 additional physicians in training who the state might not have had before, and a total of over 800 medical students at the College of Medicine.

“This initiative is intended to transform access to health care in the Commonwealth, and we are incredibly grateful that such revered organizations have partnered with us to educate more physicians to improve health and wellness for Kentuckians,” said Robert DiPaola, MD, dean of the UK College of Medicine. “This is an exciting time for our college and for these students who will pave the way for upcoming classes at each of these campuses.”

From our Northern Kentucky Campus students’ perspective

Many of our students already have expressed gratitude for being able to enjoy the unique benefits to each campus. These students include Rebecca Waugh and Jacob Lutz, two members of the Northern Kentucky Campus’s inaugural class who followed unconventional paths to medical school.

Lutz followed a career in the film industry in Los Angeles before joining the Northern Kentucky Campus, so the hands-on experience and a smaller educational setting has allowed him to experience an easier transition into the medical field that is so drastically different from what he was pursuing before. Also, he’s from Cincinnati, so the campus’s location in Highland Heights, Ky., allows him to be close to family.

“This place really makes you feel like home. It’s very team- oriented, and everyone has your back,” Lutz says. “Instead of being intimidating, it was more of, ‘We want to get to know you. We want you to be excited about being a doctor.’”   

Meanwhile, Waugh had a background in design strategy, but she felt a strong pull to utilize those skills and help others as a physician. Knowing that the UK College of Medicine was focused on teaching patient-centered care, she jumped at the chance to apply. And living in Cincinnati, the new regional campus allowed for a similar educational experience, yet a shorter commute.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Waugh says. “The UK program stood out from a geographic standpoint. But then I got to know the program. With 35 students I realized that would mean a really intimate, personal education with faculty and staff who know our names.”

The continued impact of the Rural Physician Leadership Program

Along with campus expansion, the College of Medicine is fostering the growth of its campus in Morehead, Ky., which houses the Rural Physician Leadership Program (RPLP). Thanks to a partnership with Morehead State University and St. Claire HealthCare, the program was established in 2010 to focus on providing the same excellent medical education students receive at our main campus in Lexington, but with specialized training for practicing medicine in underserved areas.

We hope that once these students graduate, they will utilize their specialized training to help citizens in rural areas of the Commonwealth.  Statistics show that this is happening. There are 68 total graduates of RPLP. Of those 68, there are 28 graduates in practice in Kentucky, with 68 percent serving patients in rural areas.

Pamela Smallwood, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at UK Women’s Health in Morehead is a 2014 RPLP graduate who is proud to be part of the solution. Dr. Smallwood attended the University of Kentucky specifically to receive specialized training in rural medicine. She can not only attest to the skills she developed from RPLP, but also the fulfillment of her current career path and the appreciation she receives daily from patients as a physician in a small town.

“Patients are so grateful to have local providers,” Dr. Smallwood says. “I frequently get asked if I plan on sticking around, and it makes their day when I tell them I have no plans to leave.”

By putting a focus on campus expansion and community-focused medicine, we are able to gather medical students in our state and provide them with opportunities for clinical experience through treating the state’s sickest patients, thus thoroughly preparing them for the challenges ahead as physicians. But throughout their medical school experience, we also have the privilege of welcoming them to Kentucky. By educating them here, we can familiarize them with everything this great state has to offer for both professional development and personal growth.

We expect that our initiatives for campus expansion will bring even more medical students to the Commonwealth in the coming years and will result in reduced disparities for those in underserved areas of the region who need access to quality health care.

Ultimately, we strive to completely alleviate the problem. With the dedication of our leadership, hard-working faculty, and generous community partners, anything is possible.        

Physicians are on the front line in addressing the health challenges Kentuckians are facing, but right now, the Commonwealth is struggling with a significant physician shortage, particularly in the rural areas of the state.

As an institution dedicated to providing excellence in education, equitable health care, and transformative research, the University of Kentucky College of Medicine leadership felt a strong sense of urgency to help find a solution, and launched and implemented a campus expansion initiative to establish campuses in Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky.

“This expansion plan was critical in allowing the College of Medicine to educate many more physicians by increasing the class size by approximately 50 percent. The program’s goal is to train physicians for Kentucky in Kentucky,” said Vice Dean for Education Charles H. “Chipper” Griffith III, MD.

To start, the college expanded its footprint within the state of Kentucky, adding two four-year regional campuses to ensure that more future health care leaders would receive a quality medical education within a state that desperately needs highly skilled physicians. The initiative is part of an important strategic planning process that included the College of Medicine

Map to Impact through a Transdisciplinary Strategy (COMMITS) in 2017, which has created aspirational goals focused on improvement


within the five pillars of the college: education, research, clinical care, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement.

Across the Commonwealth, the College of Medicine collaborated with esteemed health care organizations and Kentucky universities to make campus expansion possible.

The first phase of the expansion was to launch a four-year medical education program in Bowling Green to increase our class size by 30 students. The University of Kentucky College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus came to fruition through a partnership with Med Center Health and Western Kentucky University. This campus has just begun its second full year of educating the next generation of health care leaders, with a current total of 60 first- year and second-year students receiving their medical education from the campus.

Meanwhile, our inaugural class at the Northern Kentucky Campus includes 35 first-year students who attend classes and labs within a facility located at Northern Kentucky University and receive clinical experience through St. Elizabeth HealthCare.