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LECOM and Highmark continue partnership to increase the supply and retention of physicians in rural Pennsylvania

ERIE – Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield presented Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) with a $500,000 check recently to support a continuation of The Student-To-Practice Academic Scholarship, the organizations’ collaborative scholarship program aimed at increasing the supply and retention of physicians in rural areas of Pennsylvania.

Scott Whalen, Ph.D, Dan Onorato, Silvia Ferretti, D.O., and Fourth-Year Student, Catherine Conway presented with $500,000 check by Highmark.

Saint Vincent Hospital President and CEO Scott Whalen, Ph.D.; (from left) Highmark Health Executive Vice President Dan Onorato; LECOM Vice President, Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs Silvia Ferretti, D.O.; and LECOM Fourth-Year Student Catherine Conway stand with the $500,000 check that was presented by Highmark. Conway will be the first Student-To-Practice Academic Scholarship recipient to graduate this May.

“Today’s health care environment is filled with challenges, one of which is making sure that all communities throughout our diverse service areas have access to high-quality, affordable care options,” said Highmark Health President and CEO David Holmberg. “Not only will LECOM students in medical training benefit from this half-a-million-dollar scholarship program, but it will also benefit many rural and underserved Pennsylvanians who will see these same scholarship recipients – their future doctors – for care.”

The partnership began in 2012 with an initial five-year, $500,000 contribution from Highmark. With the continuation of the scholarship, a decade-long pipeline of LECOM graduates who will train and work within the Allegheny Health Network has been established.

Scholarship recipients agree to practice in primary care throughout areas in Pennsylvania and Appalachia designated by Highmark as having physician shortages. That requirement is significant, considering Pennsylvania ranks tenth in the United States in terms of its number of such areas, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation. Pennsylvania also has one of the largest rural populations in the United States.

Catherine Conway, a West Mifflin, Pa., native who will graduate this spring with a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, was among the first group of students to receive the scholarship in 2014. Conway is currently in her fourth-year clinical rotation and will begin her residency this summer at an Allegheny Health Network teaching hospital. She is eager to serve as a primary care physician in rural Pennsylvania.

“I was awarded the Student-To-Practice Academic Scholarship for two years,” she said. “Not only do I get to work as a family medicine physician in Pennsylvania during that time, but I will be able to do so with considerably less debt. As a native of West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, and as a fourth-year osteopathic medical student at LECOM, I’m excited for the opportunity to remain in my home state and work with underserved populations. This scholarship is very important to me because I’m committed to focusing on primary care.”

Pennsylvania is ranked as having the third largest rural population in the country. Many physicians currently practicing in rural communities throughout the Commonwealth are 55 years and older, and they are planning to retire in the next few years. Replacement of primary care and specialty physicians is critical to continue providing health care to rural populations.

“This partnership will support and benefit LECOM students throughout their years of medical school and help provide health care for underserved areas for years to come, aspects which are central to LECOM’s mission,” said Silvia M. Ferretti, D.O., LECOM vice president, provost and dean of academic affairs. “As Highmark continues working with LECOM, we look toward generations to come – to an improved health care system where all may receive the best care and where institutions such as LECOM and Highmark stand ever in the vanguard.”

The scholarship selection is a joint effort between LECOM and Highmark. Scholarship students are selected from criteria ranging from academic performance to demonstrated commitment to a career in primary or specialty care working in an underserved area.

About the LECOM-Highmark Scholarship Program
Administered by LECOM, the program provides support to students who seek financial assistance to complete the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree requirements. Scholarships are awarded through a highly competitive selection process overseen by a committee of senior leaders from LECOM and Highmark. Awards are based upon several criteria, including academic performance, a commitment to practicing in primary care, and prior experience working with underserved populations.

About the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) is the nation’s largest medical college, and with Millcreek Community Hospital and the Clinical Practices of Medical Associates of Erie forms the only osteopathic Academic Health Center in the United States. LECOM is at the core of this highly innovative medical education system and strives to add to the quality of life of its neighbors by bringing total health care to the community. LECOM is preparing the next generation of physicians, dentists, and pharmacists at its campuses in Erie and Greensburg, Pa. and in Bradenton, Fla. For more, visit

About Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
Highmark Inc. doing business as Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield serves approximately 3.3 million members through the company’s health care benefits business and hundreds of thousands of additional members through the Blue card program. It employs more than 4,200 people in western, north central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. For more information, visit