September 07, 2012
By David Martin
Sheep shearing demonstrations, midway rides and the developing skills of University of Kansas medical students will be among the attractions at the Kansas State Fair.
On Saturday, the second day of the fair, members of the Rural Medicine Interest Group will conduct blood pressure checks at the KU booth. For many students, the fair will provide an early — if not the first — opportunity to work on clinical skills in a settling less controlled than a classroom.
"One of the first things you can do is health screenings," says Jonathan Pike, a second-year student in Kansas City and co-president of the Rural Medicine Interest Group. "It's fun to be able to actually offer a service that's beneficial to people."
About 20 students will work in two-hour shifts on Saturday. This is the third consecutive year that students from the rural medicine group have traveled to Hutchinson to volunteer.
If history is a guide, their blood pressure monitors will stay busy. Claire Hinrichsen, a second-year student in Salina and co-president of the Rural Medicine Interest Group, worked at the 2011 state fair. "It was a constant stream of people," she says.
Conducting dozens of blood pressure checks in a short period of time was good practice, Hinrichsen says. The students at last year's fair also performed blood glucose tests on fairgoers. But a decision was made to not offer the screening at this year's fair, in part because of the availability of funnel cakes and other fair foods: The most accurate blood glucose tests are taken after the subject has fasted for at least eight hours.
Though they may not be able to conduct a full range of health screenings, the students who work at the fair can expect to be rewarded for their time.
Hinrichsen says she enjoyed being able to listen to people talk about their health and hear what questions they had. (Not being a licensed physician, Hinrichsen advised individuals with concerns about their personal health to share them with their doctor.) Other visitors to the booth simply welcomed the opportunity to talk about their connection to KU.
Access to care is often an obstacle for rural residents. Pike believes that the state fair trip is especially worthwhile for first-year medical students, who can learn about the problem first-hand. "This is a valuable experience, especially for people who maybe aren't familiar with the rest of the state, to see how many people that there are in a rural community who need health care," he says.
The Rural Medicine Interest Group organizes activities for students on and off all three campuses. In addition to events such as the state fair, the group has invited national speakers to the main campus, which is, of course, situated in the heart of a large metropolitan area. Michael Kennedy, M.D., associate dean for rural health and the group's faculty sponsor, credits the Rural Medicine Interest Group with "changing the culture on an urban medical school campus to a more rural-friendly environment."
Kennedys says he is proud of the rural medicine group's efforts to meaningful opportunities for medical students to engage with Kansans in rural communities. "They have provided a role model for similar rural student groups in other states," he says.