In this final segment of our four-part, in-depth series. “Rural Communities: Conquering Challenges, Optimizing Opportunities,” produced in association with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Michelle talks to three major thought leaders about pressing challenges and the future of living in rural America: Tom Morris, the Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy in HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), who oversees the work of the Office of Rural Health Policy; Dr. Allen Pratt, Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association (NREA); and Whitney Kimball Coe, the director of National Programs at the Center for Rural Strategies, where she leads the Rural Assembly, a nationwide movement striving to build better policy and more opportunity for rural communities.
The three big challenges in rural education today are teacher shortages, broadband and connectivity, and access to jobs in rural regions, according to Pratt. He notes Montana is trying to make it easier for potential teachers from rural areas to get licensed. Morris says that if you train people in rural areas, it’s more likely that they’ll stay in rural communities, noting that his office funded 27 new rural residency planning grants this year. Through its grant authority. Morris’s office engage in outreach in rural communities, such as it recent four-year pilot on obstetric services, which links the major stakeholders in this area. As far as success stories are concerned, Pratt cites a coding program in Montana, a wildlife initiative outside of Buffalo, NY, and scholarship to teacher aides in Arizona, while Morris mention what rural communities in Missouri and Maine are doing to combat COPD and projects in rural areas in Washington and Kentucky that are improving the population’s health status. Coe discussed the takeaways from the recent Rural Women’s Summit in Greenville, NC, including the leadership roles played by women in creating healthier rural communities (with or without the leadership titles) and the fact they should be better supported and the level of optimism that was bursting at the seams at the conference and how that could lead to changing of the narrative on rural communities. Finally, Coe cited the influence of the nonpartisan Vote, Run, Lead, which held a workshop at the Summit for women considering running for public office. This episode and the entire four-part series was sponsored and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, rwjf.org.