How the program works:
- First-year medical students learn about the program during an informational meeting held each October.
- Those who take an interest in the program then submit an application.
- Those selected participate in a seminar series, held during the second semester of their first year in medical school. The seminar covers topics such as telemedicine, public and occupational health, cultural humility, leadership, medical errors and a range of other related topics.
- Students begin their first rotations the summer following the seminar.
- Students spend three rotations with their rural physician preceptor during the four years of medical school. Rotations total a minimum of 11 weeks. Students complete a presentation on the community they serve, presenting their work to their classmates and must also maintain a journal.
- The program pays for student housing during the rotations.
As government agencies report a higher percentage of health-related deaths in rural communities as compared with more urban areas – partially due to less access to qualified physicians and specialists – the University of Arizona is working to increase the number of physicians serving in such communities.
Through the Rural Health Professions Program, 25 students from the UA College of Medicine – Tucson and UA College of Medicine – Phoenix are working in rural areas this summer under the guidance of physicians in those communities.
"The UA is a land-grant institution that is charged with benefiting the entire state of Arizona," said Carol Galper, assistant dean for medical student education.
By volunteering at hospitals and clinics, the students are learning about the nature of patient care in rural communities.
"This allows the UA medical students to be of assistance in smaller communities," Galper said. "It shows not only the commitment of this institution but also of these young students, who are enthusiastic, who want to be involved and make a difference."
The shortage of medical specialists in rural areas remains a contributor to limited access to patient care. The issue was so concerning that theUA program was created after state lawmakers in 1996 recognized challenges associated with the physician shortage.
Today, the program is funded by the state and the Arizona Area Health Education Centers, a program that is charged with enhancing the quality of health care by distributing health care professionals in rural and urban areas that are medically underserved. The program encourages students and graduates to practice in those areas.
Callie Davies, a fourth-year medical student at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson will be completing her 24-week rotation in September. Davis has served in several rural areas in Arizona and has worked to navigate limited resources, such as certain types of equipment, to provide the best care for patients.
"Although medical equipment can be purchased, the nature of serving in rural areas is difficult with the shortage of physician specialists," Davies said.
Davies said the UA summer program offers her a one-time opportunity to connect with mentors and patients in an immersive training environment that allows her to determine ways to better support those living in rural communities.
Because she has an interest in working in a rural community, Davies said gaining such experience and knowledge before she graduates will be beneficial in the long term.
"I like serving in underserved populations," Davies said. "This has given me a taste of how it feels to be a doctor in a rural area, and it is helping me see the realistic side of it."
Hilary Rees, a second-year student at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson who is also studying public health, serving in Sierra Vista in general surgery, said having grown up in Moab, Utah, helped prepare her to better serve patients in rural communities. Her experience, she said, has helped her to become attuned to some of the medical limitations in rural areas and to adjust to challenges.
"In the end, the program offers better providers and better students for the future," she said. "It's doing wonders for me as a physician to be working in a different setting and having access to highly specialized people."