JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University (ETSU) unveiled a new program Tuesday to put future medical students on the track to serving rural and underserved communities.

ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine announced the start of EQUIP (Extending Quillen to the Underserved through an Integrated Program), which aims to find and mentor students who want to provide primary care to those underserved areas.

“Quillen College of Medicine has an exceptional history of increasing access to health care, specialty care and medical knowledge for our region,” said Dr. Tom Kincer, associate dean for Rural and Community Programs, in a release. “EQUIP is an exciting continuation of that mission, allowing Quillen to attract a more diverse student body and create a pathway that brings broader medical care coverage to all.”

The program will focus on finding both high school and college students who show an interest in rural medicine, which the college describes as critical.

“Currently, we have a shortage of about 20,000 physicians in our rural communities,” Kincer told News Channel 11. “Getting physicians to go back to rural communities is difficult, and we know that the best way to do that is to train students from those rural communities to go back to those underserved communities.”

Any students who complete the program “will be granted a guaranteed interview when they apply to Quillen,” a release from ETSU states.

EQUIP is limited to 20 high school students and 15 college students at each year level. There is no cost to being part of the program or attending any of its events.

Applications have opened for the program, and more information is available online.