[Skip to Content]
Rural immersion

Students take part in Rural Immersion Week in North Country

Despite pandemic precautions, Rural Immersion Week found the North Country inviting and welcoming to a group of Upstate Medical University medical students who decided to take a closer look at health care in out of the way places.

The elective brought a dozen students from the Rural Medical Scholars program from June 1 to 5 to the North Country for one week of intensive programming spotlighting rural medicine.

Students worked alongside local physicians and offered in-patient and out-patient clinical training. The students also spoke to local high school students about medical careers and took part in a scavenger hunt that required them to connect with local official—like the mayor of Canton—to find their next stop.

It was a fantastic experience,” said Dan DeNoble. “It really provided one with an in-depth look at rural or small town health care.

Understanding the limitations to rural health care, which sometimes requires patients to seek treatment out of town, DeNoble said he was very impressed by what many of these small clinics can offer patients.

But without a doubt, a selling point for being a physician in these areas is the family-focus that this type of medical care boasts.  “These physicians are not strangers to patients; they are everywhere in a community like these,” said DeNoble noting that one physician spoke of often seeing their patients out and about in the community.

“The relationship with a patient isn’t simply on the date of the appointment,” he said. “I think physicians practicing in this setting might have a better understanding of the health issues some patients face.”

Elana Sitnik, another medical student who participated in the immersion program, does not envision her medical future in rural healthcare, but the experience resonated with her strong interest in creating healthcare policy.

“This was an important experience for me to have, as I had limited previous exposure to rural medicine,” Sitnik said. “I think rural communities, in many ways, are left out of the conversation on health policy and we need these areas to be part of the discussion on numerous issues, such as access and improved integration of services.”

Rural Immersion Week is but one offering from Upstate’s Rural Medical Scholars Program, housed in the Department of Family Medicine. The program offers four years of elective training in rural health. Course offerings continue to grow as the program seeks to implement a micro-credential in rural medicine by 2022.

The program’s signature course, RMED, was established in 1989 and today enables students to complete three core clinical rotations--Family Medicine, Emergency Medicine and Surgery--along with elective time, with board-certified physicians in small towns across New York. Hospitals and practitioners in 30 small cities and towns, from Jamestown to Glens Falls, and from Plattsburgh to Hudson, have hosted Upstate students.

The need for physicians in rural American is significant. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but less than one-tenth of physicians practice there. And a federal study projects a shortage of more than 20,000 primary care physicians in rural areas by 2025.

Carrie Roseamelia, PhD, the Assistant Dean for Rural Medicine 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.”

Each group of students created a video about their experience, which are noted below:

Canton Potsdam students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2b1nhMvXQ4

Ogdensberg students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsOTEDqBQUQ

Lowville students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=y-UAZ8_tFmc


Caption: A sure sign one's not in the city, is this big cow statue in Lowville standing tall near a local dairy co-op.