Some U.S. medical schools are sending students to train with small-town, country doctors. The would-be physicians get tempted with all the local attractions during their stay too. It’s all part of an experiment to draw a new generation of docs to struggling rural areas.
Katherine Schaffer is excited to meet people who share her interest in rural medical practice. She says her med-school friends worry they wouldn’t have a social life in a small town.
Schaffer’s friends aren’t alone in their concerns. To combat the image of boring country life, medical colleges like East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine organize outings and cultural experiences in Appalachia. They’re hoping to sell students on going rural after graduation. Schools like Quillen go the extra country mile to show students what rural life offers—bike trips, storytellers, local foods, whitewater rafting, and even cattle branding.
“It’s a little sense of what the fun part of rural life can be,” says Dr. Dana King. He is the faculty chair of the Family Medicine Department at West Virginia University School of Medicine.
At the University of Colorado School of Medicine, students meet with the mayor, police chief, or other rural community leaders. They interview residents to learn about the town. “We want to give students an idea about what goes into the workings of a small community,” says Dr. Mark Deutchman, director of the school’s rural track.
Dr. Darrin Nichols says the rural program at West Virginia confirmed his choice to practice near his hometown of roughly 800 people. He was struck by the camaraderie of coal miners he met during a trip organized by the school.
It is human nature to desire community. (Genesis 2:18) When we seek out relationships—in the city or the country—we reflect God’s three-in-one nature and His purpose.
“I always wanted to stay near my family,” Nichols says, “and practice in a community that had those types of relationships.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that rural America needs nearly 4,000 more physicians than it has. Currently, about 39 accredited medical colleges have rural training tracks. That’s about a fifth of U.S. medical schools.
Dr. Joseph Florence directs the rural programs at Quillen. He says big-city medical programs push students to become specialists, not primary care doctors. “They beat rural out of you by the time you leave,” he says. Rural track programs, on the other hand, give general practitioner students opportunity to “not only be accepted but be appreciated for” offering needed, but simpler, care.