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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Summer program gives med students glimpse into rural practice

    Removing growths from patients, stitching and watching cesarean sections were just some of the experiences had by UA medical students this summer.

    For students in the UA College of Medicine who participated in the Rural Health Professions Program (RHPP), the summer was a chance to take what they learned in their first year of medical school and see it in action.

    The program, in its 11th year, takes students entering their second year of medical school to a rural community of their choosing, where they are matched with physician mentors for four to six weeks over the summer.

    “”It’s a program that is designed to nurture interest in rural and under-served practice among medical students,”” said Carol Galper, assistant dean for medical student education at the College of Medicine.

    There is currently a shortage of doctors in rural communities, in many cases causing residents in need of medical assistance to travel long distances just to get the help they need, she said.

    Adding to the problem is the fact that many of the baby boomer doctors are now beginning to retire, and they need to be replaced, Galper said.

    “”Since we are the only state-funded medical school, we do have an obligation and dedication to creating physicians for the state of Arizona,”” she said.

    For Darrell Brimhall, RHPP was also a chance to go to the rural community he calls home, Snowflake, Ariz., and do something other than studying to prepare for his second year in medical school. Brimhall, who attends the UA College of Medicine in Phoenix, spent six weeks at Snowflake’s only medical clinic, which has five doctors for the town’s population of about 5,000.

    Brimhall spent much of his time at the clinic observing the other doctors including his mentor, Alan DeWitt, another Snowflake native and a graduate of the College of Medicine.

    “”I got to do stitching,”” Brimhall said. “”I got to remove growths from people. I did pap smears. I did vaginal exams. I did a lot of muscular, skeletal exams. I checked for hernias. I did some things like that too, but that was the minority of the time.””

    Leslie Padrnos went to her hometown of Yuma, a rural community of around 80,000 people, where she too got some hands-on experience at the Women’s Health Specialist Clinic for four weeks and the labor and delivery unit at the Yuma Regional Medical Center for two weeks.

    Padrnos, who also attends the College of Medicine in Phoenix, was mentored by John Brock Amon, another graduate of the College of Medicine who participated in RHPP.

    “”I helped with annual exams”” Padrnos said. “”During some of the surgeries, I did some of the preliminary things, like using the speculum to find the cervix so that we could do the rest of the procedure. I helped suture a little bit on a patient … I got to hold the camera for a laparoscopic surgery.””

    Brimhall and Padrnos both observed that doctors in rural communities handle a broader scope of practice due to the nature of working in an area where the nearest specialist to refer a patient to is 30 miles away.

    “”I think there is probably a bigger responsibility to the community and they feel that,”” Padrnos said. “”They know that taking a vacation means there’s a whole subset of patients that are going to have to wait because there aren’t as many OBs.””

    The program also offered Brimhall and Padrnos a chance to be with their families over the summer while at the same time giving them a glimpse into a future in rural health that both are already planning on.

    Brimhall took his wife, Kendra, and their two children with him to his hometown for the summer and said that while many doctors may be willing to work in rural areas, the problem is getting the families to want to go as well.

    “”It’s very easy to convince a doctor to go practice rural, but it’s not as easy to convince his spouse … It’s a huge plus to get the family to see what it’s like,”” Brimhall said.

    Although Brimhall grew up in Snowflake, he does recognize what might be challenges for some people living in a rural area, like having to drive 30 miles to get a new shirt or pair of shoes – or if you are a doctor, seeing your patients almost everywhere you go, but Brimhall said he loves it.

    “”One out of 10 people who come through the door I’m related to. Half of them I know or know someone who knows them. I like that, I grew up with that, so that’s what I like,”” Brimhall said.

    For Brimhall’s wife of five years, who is from Phoenix, it was only recently that taking trips to Snowflake began to not feel like camping trips, Brimhall said, although she now enjoys the quiet and friendliness of the community.

    Padrnos’ time in Yuma gave her the insight into obstetrics that she needed to decide if she should seriously consider the branch of medicine for her future.

    “”I really, really hope I end up becoming an obstetrician. I had the most phenomenal time,”” Padrnos said. “”Besides getting into the U of A Phoenix, this was coolest thing I’ve done in medical school.””

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