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Inaugural Minority Physician Scholarship Awarded at the Virginia Via College of Osteopathic Medicine

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The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas (VCOM-Carolinas) has received a grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation. This grant will further expand access to physicians and improve health care in South Carolina by supporting VCOM-Carolinas’ efforts to recruit, retain and graduate minority medical students who will remain in South Carolina to practice primary care.

Four students will benefit from this grant with each receiving full tuition throughout their four years in medical school. In exchange, the students agree to provide primary care services in South Carolina for a minimum of four years.

Educational debt is one of the greatest barriers to recruiting all medical students, especially underrepresented minorities and those from rural and medically underserved areas. The high loan burden associated with medical school can discourage these students from pursuing careers as physicians. This creates a ripple effect of widening health care disparities that disproportionately affect the accessibility of primary care physicians in underserved areas. Research shows health outcomes improve when the race and ethnicity of the patient are the same as that of the physician.

“A majority of the 46 counties in South Carolina are considered medically underserved, and the state must meet health care needs by addressing current and growing demands for primary care providers. The grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation will greatly help VCOM-Carolinas recruit minority physicians to practice in medically underserved areas, and this will have enormous positive outcomes for the health of South Carolina and could save lives, as many residents living in these areas often lack access to basic health care services,” said Dr. Matthew Cannon, dean of VCOM-Carolinas.

Two students from the class of 2026 received scholarships due to this funding, and two students from the class of 2027 will receive scholarships.

Kanika Dunn earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Bluefield University-VCOM Campus and a doctor of pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She completed a pharmacy practice residency at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York, and a pediatrics pharmacy residency at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida. Before entering medical school at VCOM-Carolinas, she worked as a clinical pediatric pharmacist at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida.

“Money has been the biggest factor in me pursuing a medical degree. Having student loans for pharmacy school delayed me attending medical school. Receiving this scholarship is an amazing feeling, and I will now be able to live out my dream of becoming a pediatrician,” said Dunn.

Shabria Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in public health from the College of Charleston and a master’s degree in biomedical studies from Chatham University. Before entering medical school at VCOM-Carolinas, she worked as a laboratory program adviser for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control 

“Receiving this grant from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation puts me one step closer to realizing my goal of becoming a physician and returning to my native home of South Carolina to practice medicine and to care for rural and underserved patients,” said Williams.

This article can also be found in the Fall 2022 Grantee Highlights Book.