Thursday, April 6, 2017

Medical student group helps future physicians prepare for a career in rural medicine

In January 2007, Michael Kennedy, M.D. and several students at The University of Kansas School of Medicine began exploring the idea of forming a group that would connect students who were interested in rural medicine to each other and to resources that would prepare them for rural practice.
Left to right: Dr. Kennedy, officers Brandon Haefke (Kansas City), Michael Ziegler (Salina) and Samantha Claassen (Wichita)

“One of the things that dawned on me was that there was really no glue to hold those students together,” Kennedy recalled. “They wanted advice from different rural speakers on a national and local level and from doctors in rural practice, and they wanted to connect.”

After informal meetings and planning, Kennedy and seven students officially formed the Rural Medicine Interest Group (RMIG) in July 2008. They began holding monthly lunch meetings and using word of mouth to invite others. The group doubled in size the next year, then again the next. Today, it’s the school’s largest student interest group, and the school’s only tri-campus organization with more than 125 members among Kansas City, Salina and Wichita.

“Our overall goal is to promote understanding of the practice of rural medicine,” explained Kennedy, who spent nine years in rural practice in Burlington, Kansas, and has been on the faculty at the University of Kansas Medical Center since 2000. He became the assistant dean for Rural Medical Education in 2005, and in 2008 he was promoted to associate dean. “The group has raised the profile of rural medicine on campus significantly. It gives rural medicine students a group identity, group cohesion, and offers other students the opportunity to come to lunches and explore what rural medicine is all about.”
Students at an RMIG lunch meeting in March 2017

Each campus elects a student president and then the three co-presidents work together to plan the monthly meetings. Speakers are brought in to cover a variety of topics, with each campus hosting a simultaneous lunch and connecting via ITV.

“Our lunch meeting topics focus on more than just family medicine out in western Kansas—we have speakers on other specialties that can practice in rural settings, public policy impact on rural medicine and the benefits of being a rural physician that may not often be recognized by students,” explained Samantha Claassen, Wichita campus co-president. “One of my biggest personal takeaways from the presentations is how unique each rural medicine practice experience can be. Though many rural doctors specialize in family medicine, there’s also the need for OB/GYNs and hospitalists.”

In addition to monthly meetings, RMIG members also have participated in service opportunities, such as providing free wellness checks at the Kansas State Fair. They have also represented the School of Medicine at conferences on a local and national level, and have served as student leaders in the National Rural Health Association.

“My most rewarding experience as co-president of RMIG has been attending the National Rural Health Association Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.,” Claassen said. “Not only was it my first trip to D.C., but the discussion of the topics affecting rural medicine nationwide was extremely enlightening. We were able to talk to other students from across the United States who are interested in rural medicine. It was interesting to see what ‘rural medicine’ is in their corner of the world.”

Salina co-president Michael Ziegler agrees that his involvement in the RMIG has been a great way to broaden his perspective. “RMIG is geared towards bettering rural medicine right now and also helping prepare students for a career in rural medicine,” Ziegler said. “I’ve met with CEOs of community health clinics, both Kansas senators and all four state representatives. I’ve also met with physicians from residency programs geared towards rural physicians and with rural physicians from all over the country. It’s nice to meet people who are so passionate about rural medicine, especially in today’s world .”

Written by Jess Lindsey, a contract writer for Rural Health Education and Services. Find more of her work in Kansas Connections

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