Training rural physicians

June 13, 2013

Now that it's summer, many people's minds turn to vacation - and I hope everyone takes some time off for much-earned rest and relaxation. But summer is also the time when some folks at KU Medical Center go into overdrive, working extra hard to meet the future health care needs of rural Kansas.

This week, 29 second-year medical students began one of several key opportunities to experience life as rural health care providers. The Rural Primary Care Practice and Research Program is a 22-year partnership between KU and rural physicians that you will only find in Kansas. The Office of Rural Medical Education's Dr. Michael Kennedy and Debra Lea spent all last week preparing students for the experience. Students arrived on Monday to communities across the state, from as far west as St. Francis and Meade to as far east as Marysville and Pittsburg. Students are immersed in the lifestyle of a rural physician for six weeks to gain a better understanding for what it's like to practice in Kansas towns. 

These students will gain valuable clinical experience and plan to conduct some intriguing research in an area we haven't studied before. We know that some Kansas communities have successfully overcome provider shortages. In Ashland, for example, the Ashland Health Center implemented a physician recruiting model that offers extended paid time off each year for volunteer and mission work. Our students hope to gather information on other communities' strategies for dealing with physician shortages, data that could be of great help as we strive to build healthy communities across the state.

Also this week, Dr. James Kallail from the Wichita campus and faculty from the Kansas City, Salina and Wichita campuses will begin reviewing applications for this year's Scholars in Rural Health program. This 17-year program is designed to attract and retain undergraduate rural Kansans who will one day return to practice medicine in rural communities. It assures admission to the School of Medicine once they successfully complete program requirements and graduate. Up to 16 candidates will be chosen this year, and all will receive priority consideration for the Kansas Medical Student Loan program.

That's not all our students are doing throughout Kansas. The Salina campus' first eight students are set to begin their third-year clerkships, which will place them with the volunteer faculty in their community. The Salina campus was designed for students who have a strong interest to practice in rural and underserved areas.

Third-year Kansas City campus students in family medicine, OB-GYN, pediatrics and surgery can elect to do all or part of their clerkships in rural areas. Georgina Green is the first student for the coming year to sign up for the rural OB-GYN clerkship. In July, she will head to Chanute to work with Dr. Cathy Taylor.

Of course, all fourth-year KU medical students complete a required four-week rural preceptorship. These students function at the level of interns, applying the knowledge and skills learned on campus while experiencing the challenges and opportunities of practicing primary care medicine in rural communities. This week, for instance, Aniesa Slack, a student at the Wichita campus, is finishing up her work with Dr. Erik Sandstrom in Lakin. Slack is the 38th student this year from the Wichita campus to complete a rural preceptorship. Brett Daily and Amber Boyd are waiting on their locations and will head out in July, kicking off the fourth-year rural preceptorships from Kansas City.

These programs are truly a win-win for our students and for the communities they serve. They are preparing students to serve the state's population, and the exposure to a rural doctor's lifestyle ultimately helps keep more doctors in Kansas.

I'd like to thank all the faculty and staff at the Kansas City, Salina and Wichita campuses who work diligently to find the best opportunities for our students to experience life in rural medicine. I also sincerely appreciate all the physicians who, year after year, sign on to mentor our students. Lastly, to the students who sign up for these rural experiences - thank you for considering the path of a rural physician. This teamwork and these efforts help us all strengthen our students and the Kansas health care workforce. 

Last modified: Jun 13, 2013