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With ROOTS, students aim to help others pursue rural medicine

A new program led by medical students in the Rural Medicine Interest Group aims to support and guide younger students toward medicine as a profession and calling.

Maddie Davis takes questions from Dodge City students about medical school and her path to KUSM-Wichita.
Maddie Davis, a second-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita takes questions from Dodge City High School students about medical school and her path to Wichita.

Madeleine Davis, a second-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, went to a Kansas high school with about 55 students overall and would have been in a senior class of about a dozen. Halfway through high school, she transferred from Bucklin to nearby and larger Dodge City to access greater opportunities. No one had told her becoming a doctor was an option.

“We didn't have a guidance counselor. I didn't know to take the ACT,” Davis says of her early high school years. “Even when I first got to college, nobody ever put it in my mind until I figured out, ‘Wow, I can actually do this and become a physician.’”

Fellow second-year Annie Carlson, soon moving from Kansas City to Wichita for her final medical school years, has a similar story. She graduated from a South Dakota high school where her class of 14 was considered large. Carlson always wanted to be a doctor but didn’t feel supported in that dream. “I think the only person who pursued medicine from there in the past 20 years was a distant second cousin of mine,” she says.

So, the two found it easy to embrace a new program of the three-campus Rural Medicine Interest Group called ROOTS, for Rural Opportunities and Outreach to Students. Its mission centers on “supporting and guiding rural and rurally minded junior high, high school and undergraduate students toward medicine as a profession and calling.” And its end goal, as their plans state, is to ensure there are more “doctors who love rural Kansas serving rural Kansas.”

ROOTS envisions three routes to that goal. Davis has been working on one — presentations to younger students by medical students. Carlson is focusing on another — compiling a list of college counselors and faculty so they can reach out and pair medical student mentors with interested undergraduates. A third, a Summit on Rural Health Care, isn’t as far along but aims to reach high school students interested in medical careers.

ROOTS, like some other initiatives from the rural and similar student interest groups, is developing over several years by successive classes of students and officers. So, the framework of ROOTS was formulated in 2022, honed by 2023 leadership — Davis is a co-president, Carlson secretary — and the next group of officers will soon take responsibility. Though ROOTS is just launching, they have made presentations to school groups and formed ties with the office of admissions and others involved in supporting rural medicine.

The mentoring piece

Carlson feels fortunate that the Kansas college she attended, Bethel College in Newton, has a track record of sending graduates on to medical school, as does Wichita’s Newman University, where Davis finished her degree after community college.

“I had good resources there to talk to, but upon coming to med school I realized there aren’t many kids in my class from other small KCAC (Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference) schools. The students said they were the first people to get accepted into med school from their college in years,” Carlson says. “It just made me realize that a lot of undergraduate schools might not have the resources to get kids into med school and premed advisers that really know what applications are looking for and how to go through the interview process.”

With a list of contacts coming together, the plan is to reach out in earnest late next summer, since this year’s application cycle is nearly over.

“The mentors are going to be a resource to undergraduate students interested in med school and rural medicine. They could talk about what looks good on an application or do mock interviews or tell them what kind of questions you might get in an interview. It’s just having someone they know is available to answer all their questions. So hopefully we can get more students interested in rural medicine accepted into medical school because they have really stellar applications,” said Carlson, who, like Davis, plans to stay involved with the effort even as new leaders take over.

The presentation piece

Davis recently did a test run of the presentation she put together, making stops and talking to students in Dodge City and three smaller towns south of there: her hometown of Bucklin, Minneola and Meade.

The presentation is intended to be a ready-to-go version for students to use while they’re already in rural areas, whether on rotations or taking part in STORM, the Summer Training Option in Rural Medicine they can do between their first and second years. The student could also share their own medical school journey.

As Davis did, they’ll share information on opportunities like Scholars in Rural Health, which assures medical school admission to qualified students who intend to practice in rural areas and fulfill requirements including a qualifying grade point average and score on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Or about the Kansas Medical Student Loan program, which forgives loans for each year the student serves in a rural location. And the Bridging Program, which forgives loans for primary care, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry residents who make a three-year commitment.

Maddie Davis with two teachers who taught her in Dodge City’s health sciences program, Annie Martinez and Michael Pelton.Annie Martinez teaches anatomy and physiology at Dodge City High in the health sciences track, the program that drew Davis from Bucklin. Davis later served as a student aide for Martinez, who helped arrange the presentation. Over 60 students attended during the school’s flex time period.

Students told Martinez “it was really cool” to hear Davis’ story, where she recounted her journey to Dodge, on to Hutchinson Community College, shadowing and scribing for a local family physician and KU School of Medicine-Wichita graduate Jeremy Presley, M.D., and then to Newman University. Davis talked about the challenge of the MCAT, seeking a school-life balance and about exams during medical school, like the upcoming Step 1. “It sounds like she’ll be studying from now until the end of the semester,” Martinez noted.

“She really encourages kids to get out and shadow and meet people, because they're the people you need to know really,” said Martinez, adding that many students would be first-generation college students and benefit from role models and advice. “Kids here need to see our own Red Demons achieve big things in the world.”

Davis said she told students about the ups and downs involved, like having to take the MCAT twice. And sharing with one that, “the biggest lesson I learned was that you don’t have to be perfect to be a doctor.”

It was interesting, Davis said, going back to her old school in Bucklin and seeing teachers she grew up with. And enlightening, realizing that the presentation can educate counselors, too, about loan programs and other avenues to medical school. ROOTS is, after all, about making connections and encouraging rural practice, as Davis hopes to do in western Kansas after residency.

“Honestly, if we have one interested student out of the 67 in Dodge or the 35 in Meade, then I feel good about getting that one,” Davis said.

Above, left: Maddie Davis, center, a medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, stands with two teachers who taught her in Dodge City High School’s health sciences program, Annie Martinez and Michael Pelton.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita