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Medical students get look at rural medicine through special program

Medical students get look at rural medicine through special program

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Canton, Lowville, Ogdensburg and Oswego may not be typical magnets for new physicians, but these small towns are finding creative ways to recruit future practitioners. In collaboration with hospital administrators, a special program at Upstate Medical University is making them appealing to medical students, as places to consider for future practice when the time is right.

Rural Immersion Week, a one-credit elective now in its fourth year, transplanted 20 second-year medical students in rural communities for one week this summer, where they lived and trained side-by-side with medical professionals.

Students participated in clinical rotations in local hospitals, primary care offices, and outpatient clinics. Local physicians acted as mentors and guides by inviting students into their homes for family dinners, and illustrating the benefits of small-town practice.

Students broadened their understanding of small-town life by mentoring high school students, volunteering in the community, and taking part in the rich recreational outings that New York lake-towns have to offer.

Hospitals that sponsored Upstate students include: Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Lewis County General Hospital, Claxton-Hepburn Hospital and Oswego Health. Administrators have taken to the program with the support of their community physicians. “This is a comprehensive program exposing the students to all aspects of providing care in a community such as ours,” said Senior Director of Physician Services at Oswego Health Christopher Mitchell. “We think we have a lot to offer in terms of practicing medicine and lifestyle and it is important that we highlight both.”

Second-year medical student Marissa Dale spent a week in June at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg.

“Participating in the Rural Immersion Week definitely has made me reflect upon what type of setting I see myself practicing in the future,” Dale said. “I witnessed so many positive aspects of being a physician in a smaller community throughout the week. For instance, I loved the strong sense of community, close-knit doctor-patient relationships and collaborative care between sub-specialties that I saw throughout all my Ogdensburg shadowing encounters.”

Rural Immersion Week is but one offering from Upstate’s Rural Medical Scholars Program, housed in the Department of Family Medicine. First-year and second-year students participate in the Service Learning and Community Health course and third-year medical students participate in the clinical course RMED.

RMED was established in 1989 and today enables students to complete three clinical rotations--Family Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Surgery--along with elective time, with board-certified physicians in small towns across New York. Since 1989, hospitals and practitioners in 29 small cities and towns, from Auburn to Hamilton, and from Norwich to Watkins Glen, have hosted Upstate students.

The importance of bringing new doctors to rural America cannot be overstated. A Stanford University report on rural health care has found that even though rural communities contain about 20% of America’s population, less than 10% of physicians practice in these communities.

Carrie Roseamelia, PhD, director of the Rural Medical Scholars Program explains, “Medical students need an opportunity early on in their training to see themselves as future physicians in settings that feel comfortable to them. Rural Immersion Week plants a seed for future small town practice because students work closely with small town physicians and hospital administrators who welcome them. These towns have so much to offer our students in terms of training and mentorship.”

Caption: Five Upstate Medical University students participated in the Rural Immersion Week program this June at Oswego Health. Seated from left are Upstate students Colleen Feeney and Breanna Felldin. Standing are Carrie Roseamelia, PhD, of Upstate Rural Medical Education Program; James Mattson; Laura Rein and Konstantinos Hantzidiamantis and Christopher Mitchell, Oswego Health’s senior director of physician services.