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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, 70% practice in South Dakota with 30% 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 2017 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 their Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students (REHPS) program.

As of September 2017, its seventh 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 thirty students, paired to represent the 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 two major universities, University of South Dakota (USD) and South Dakota State University (SDSU). 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 SDSU students in medical laboratory science, pharmacy, and family nursing practice, a total of thirty students work at 15 sites.

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


Participant surveys from 2012 through 2017 found:

  • 93% strongly agreed or agreed that the experience made it more likely they'd consider rural healthcare practice
  • 98% felt they had a better understanding of rural healthcare
  • 75% strongly agreed or agreed that they would consider the facility they placed for future employment

Of the 77 participants who have graduated, 54 (70%) are practicing in South Dakota and 23 (30%) have gone on to practice in rural communities with populations fewer than 10,000 or veteran facilities.

More information about the program is available:

Rural Communities Welcome Health Professions Students, Midwest Medical Edition Magazine, September/October 2012.

Contact Information
Cheri Buffington, REHPS Program Manager
Yankton Rural Area Health Education Center
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
January 8, 2018

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.