ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – A stateline medical program is leading the charge to improve rural health care.

For students and staff at UIC Health Sciences campus in Rockford, it is a passion. Administrators said that graduates are coming to Rockford from across the midwest to prepare for a career in medicine.

The Rural Medicine Program at the campus has never been busier. School leaders said that there are over 100 students enrolled for the first time in the program’s 28 year history.

“There’s an incredible need for all different types of health professions, to serve rural and undeserved communities in the state of Illinois and across the country,” said Dr. Hana Hinkle, the Department Head for the National Center for Rural Health Professions. “We are actually, right now, the largest rural medical education program in the country.”

Hinkle said that part of the increase is due to more graduates coming to the “Forest City” from other states in the midwest.

“That expansion has really happened in the past five or six years,” Hinkle said. “When we first started the program, we were very specifically recruiting students from rural Illinois.”

Second-year medical student Maggie Baker grew up in Iowa, and her home town has a population of about 200 people. She said that she has experienced first-hand what a lack of physicians can mean for a rural community.

“I would say the majority of our class have had some sort of impact in their life. They’ve seen a family member, they’ve seen a community member, someone close to them really go through a sort-of tragic accident, and really see the need,” Baker said. “It’s all near and dear in our hearts, and we really want to take the opportunity to serve communities like where we came from.”

The college hopes to add a new $100 million dollar rural health building in the near future. Hinkle said that expanding the program could continue to close the gap in healthcare access across parts of Illinois.

“The possibilities are really endless for recruitment across all different health professions, for students who want to practice in rural areas down the road,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle said that about two-thirds of the college’s Rural Medicine graduates end up staying in Illinois for work.