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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medical students take action against rural physician shortage

MU’s Rural Track Pipeline Program allows medical students to work in rural areas over the summer.

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Nate Compton/Graphic Designer

MU’s medical students are doing their part to help alleviate the need for doctors within rural communities.

Each year, MU’s Area Health Education Center coordinates a summer community workshop for medical students who are in their second year or later. The MU School of Medicine, a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant and the regional health systems provide funding to this endeavor.

Medical students in the workshop can stay in a rural community for two to eight weeks. The program has been in operation since 1995 and continues to draw students in from both rural and urban backgrounds.

The event is affiliated with the Rural Track Pipeline Program for students interested in pursuing a medical career in a rural area. Through the rural track program, a rural practicing physician usually volunteers to be a “preceptor” or teacher to the student.

The program provides a head start for students by giving them practical experience in the field outside of their standard bookwork. Due to the lack of medical workers in rural areas, the students and their instructors bear the responsibility of being some of the only physicians for miles.

AHEC director Kathleen Quinn said students from rural backgrounds usually partake in order to help give back to their community, while those from urbanized backgrounds gain new experiences and insights on how rural medicine works.

“Eighteen percent of the university’s medical students practice in rural areas and 57 percent of those who choose to participate in the program end up working in a rural location post-graduation,” Quinn said.

Quinn said that thanks to this program, students are able to make an informed decision on whether or not to continue their practice professionally within a rural area.

Students who choose to attend the workshop are presented with a new array of experiences not normally accessible until later years. These practices can include pediatric, family medicine, surgery and ear-nose-throat work.

“What makes the program so interesting to students is the continuity of care that comes with the work,” Quinn said. “Whether it’s treating the entire family or having to deal with less traffic, some people like the more simple life.”

Second-year medical student Kayla Matzek said her experience with the program was “interesting and beneficial.” Over the summer, Matzek practiced medicine in Forsyth, a small town near Branson. Dr. Charles Rasmussen was her supervisor during her stay.

“I got to do a lot of things many students don’t get to do until their third or fourth year,” Matzek said. “I got to deliver a baby, do physicals and minor procedures. I was also the first-hand assistant in surgeries.”

Matzek said the program helps reaffirm to most students why they go into the medical field: to help people. She said this can be easily overshadowed by the academic rigor of first-year studies.

“He made me push myself and be independent,” Matzek said. “He had me taking notes on patients, writing their health history, giving them a physical assessment and a plan of action.” Many times, students work with patients independent from their supervisor’s watch.

Second year medical student Jesse Day worked at a hospital in Poplar Bluff over the summer.

“As a rural physician, you may actually have to do things outside of your realm of expertise — that’s just the nature of the job,” Day said. “Overall, though, I got to feel like a doctor, and that’s an experience I think you can’t get anywhere else.”​

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