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Curriculum Highlights of Rural Medicine Track
In rural settings, physicians tend to see and treat a broader range of medical conditions than their urban counterparts. Educating physicians to practice effectively in rural settings requires an emphasis on clinical topics and skills specific to this work environment. The rural medicine track is designed to prepare students to develop competency and independence in performing basic clinical procedures early in their training. For example, starting from the first day of the first semester, in the Introduction to Medicine I course, students learn how to obtain a medical history and perform the physical examination. In this course, students practice these hands-on skills in a community setting by working weekly with a rural physician preceptor and participating monthly in a free health clinic.
Early immersion in rural health care leads to a deeper understanding of the meaningful long-term relationships that rural patients, physicians and communities develop over time. From the first semester of medical school, students in the rural medicine track have the opportunity to participate in a preceptorship program with rural physicians, develop long-term professional relationships with rural patients, gain insight to the social and cultural aspects of rural health care. Medical students on the rural track are assigned to a rural physician whom they accompany weekly in rural practice at the office, the clinic, the nursing home or other facility. This involvement in a rural medical practice is extended into a longer clerkship during the clinical years and is reinforced by an early appreciation of the rural patients’ point of view.
Rural healthcare providers must understand the impact of rural living on the long-term health management. Students establish a professional relationship with assigned longitudinal patients from a rural community and participate during medical decision-making sessions with the patient and her/his caregivers. The longitudinal patient-centered curriculum supports early development of relationship-building skills, provides hands-on practice for clinical skills, and actively exposes students to the management of common medical problems.
The rural medicine track is designed to integrate medical students’ developing basic science and clinical literacy with a desire to serve rural patients. Beginning in the first year, clinical content is integrated with the basic science courses using clinical correlations, medical simulation, real patient examination, and practice on standardized patients. For example, as students dissect and study the thoracic region in anatomy, they also learn how to perform a chest examination in Introduction to Medicine I. As they study the cardiovascular physiology, they also solve clinical cases on the Human Patient Simulator. Throughout the curriculum, the clinical correlations with the basic sciences emphasize rural medicine. For example, injuries and illnesses most common in rural environments are illustrated and discussed in all courses to demonstrate the multiple connections between the basic and clinical sciences. This continuous integration allows medical students to develop a comprehensive understanding of rural illnesses and their treatment.