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Medical school is key to helping South Dakotans access health care

VERMILLION, S.D. -- In her remarks today to the Governor’s Primary Care Task Force, Dr. Mary Nettleman, dean of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, emphasized the vital and expanding role of the medical school in helping the state of South Dakota successfully address health care access issues for its citizens.

“The medical school is expanding class size by 11 students starting in the fall of 2015. This will put more physicians in more South Dakota communities,” Nettleman said.

Class size at the state’s only medical school was 56 this year. Next year 67 first year-students will be accepted. This expansion was recommended by the task force, and supported by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the state legislature as a strategy to meet the needs of South Dakota’s aging and rural population. This expansion also offers new opportunities for South Dakota students to enter medical school and pursue medicine as a career.

According to Nettleman, there are now 636 physicians serving communities across South Dakota who are graduates of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. South Dakota’s medical school leads other medical schools in the region in the percentage of its graduates who remain in the state to practice medicine.

Another important directive issued by Daugaard and overseen by the task force is that citizens residing in rural areas of the state benefit from improved access to healthcare providers. The medical school, explained Nettleman, is meeting that challenge.

“Thirty-three percent of our graduates,” she said, “are practicing medicine in rural areas.” No other medical school in the nation, Nettleman added, is placing a higher percentage of its graduates in rural settings than the USD Sanford School of Medicine.

“We are targeting medical service to rural areas by pursuing innovative initiatives,” Nettleman stated. “The official launch of the FARM (Frontier and Rural Medicine) program just today demonstrates the commitment of the medical school and the commitment of our state’s leadership to assist rural South Dakotans with their health care needs.”

The FARM program places six third-year medical students in five rural communities. Each student participates in an intense nine-month training at one community. This introduces the student to rural medicine, and it’s anticipated that this program will foster more physician interest in practicing in rural communities. The FARM program will expand student participation in the future.

“Through innovative programs, a top-caliber faculty, and a nationally recognized curriculum, the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine is advancing health care for all South Dakotans,” Nettleman added. “This is a team effort, tapping into the impressive resourcefulness of South Dakotans. We strongly appreciate the support of the state’s leaders, and the many clinical physicians who teach at the school.”

A photo of Nettleman is available for download at


USD's Sanford School of Medicine is nationally known for excellence. With its award-winning curriculum, the school prepares medical students to practice in all fields of medicine and is particularly recognized and ranked for its reputation in family medicine and rural medicine. In addition to the M.D., it offers graduate degrees in basic biomedical science, sustains a vibrant and forward-looking research agenda, and is home to the interdisciplinary Center for Brain and Behavioral Research.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

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Hanna DeLange
USD News