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.
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
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,
Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students
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.
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
Participant surveys from 2012 through 2019 found:
- 89% strongly agreed or agreed that the experience
made it more likely they'd consider rural healthcare
- 97% felt they had a better understanding of rural
- 74% strongly agreed or agreed
that they would consider the facility they placed for
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.
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
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
August 22, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
July 27, 2023
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub,
Rural Experiences for Health Professions Students (REHPS) [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at:
[Accessed 28 November 2023]
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.