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Rural Health Information Hub

Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students (REHPS)

  • Need: An ongoing shortage of healthcare providers in rural areas of South Dakota
  • Intervention: A 4-week summer program placing health professions students in rural communities.
  • Results: Of graduating participants, 71% practice in South Dakota with 30% of those graduates practicing in rural communities with populations fewer than 10,000, or veteran facilities.


REHPS Logo South Dakota is experiencing an ongoing shortage of healthcare workers, with 52 of the state's 66 counties designated as medically underserved. According to the state's Office of Rural Health 2018 Workforce report, the increased demand for healthcare workers is driven by 5 factors: general population increases; technological advances requiring additional staff; a growing emphasis on disease management; an aging population; and an healthcare workforce reaching retirement age.

Many South Dakota organizations are working together to meet these needs with various recruitment opportunities, including the Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students (REHPS) program.

As of September 2019, its ninth year, the program continues to meet its primary goal of raising awareness for healthcare service needs in the state's rural and frontier underserved areas by creating on-site experiences for health profession students. Yet another goal is translating those student experiences into successful rural retention. This is accomplished with program expansion from three sites in 2011, to the current 15. The program accommodates 32 students, paired to represent nine different health professions. This combination effort also highlights another program goal: providing an interprofessional experience that promotes interdisciplinary learning so integral to healthcare delivery in any setting.

With original 2009 Health Resources and Services (HRSA) grant funding awarded to the Sanford School of Medicine, the program has now expanded from the Yankton Rural Area Health Education Center (AHEC) to include the Northeast AHEC in Aberdeen.

The REHPS program received a three-year Rural Health Workforce Development Grant from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (September 2010 through August 2013.) Since 2014, the program has been sustained by funding from the state's Office of Rural Health and the South Dakota Department of Health.

Services offered

The REHPS four-week Summer Experience Program takes students from the state's four universities: Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU), Mount Marty University (MMU), South Dakota State University (SDSU), and University of South Dakota (USD).

The students are matched with preceptors in South Dakota's rural and frontier areas. With USD's clinical psychology, master of social work, medical laboratory science, physician, and physician assistant students joining DWU nursing students, MMU nurse practitioner students, along with SDSU students in medical laboratory science, pharmacy, and family nursing practice, a total of 32 students work at 15 sites.

Community projects are completed by student pairs. Recent 2019 participants' experiences are documented in blogs here.


Participant surveys from 2012 through 2019 found:

  • 89% strongly agreed or agreed that the experience made it more likely they'd consider rural healthcare practice
  • 97% felt they had a better understanding of rural healthcare
  • 74% strongly agreed or agreed that they would consider the facility they placed for future employment

A review completed after the first 118 participants graduated, 84 (71%) are practicing in South Dakota and 25 (21%) have gone on to practice in rural communities with populations fewer than 10,000 or in veteran facilities. Another review completed after the next 100 students graduated revealed that of the over 200 students, 67% stayed in South Dakota with 30% of them choosing to work in communities with populations under 10,000.

More information about the program is available by exploring:

Contact Information

Cheri Buffington, REHPS Program Director
Yankton Rural Area Health Education Center

Frontier and remote areas
Health workforce education and training
Interprofessional training of the health workforce
Nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses
Pharmacy workforce
Physician assistants

States served
South Dakota

Date added
August 22, 2013

Date updated or reviewed
July 27, 2023

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2023. Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students (REHPS) [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: [Accessed 13 July 2024]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.