Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First OSU-COM Medical Students Graduate with Rural Health Option

The Oklahoma State University (OSU) Center for Rural Health at the OSU - Center for Health Sciences is proud to announce its first graduates from the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) to have Rural Health Option noted on their transcripts.  The six students are Lori Arney, Kara Beair, Amanda Bighorse, Beth Hites, Joanna Reusser, and Krystal Vonfeldt. 

The Rural Health Option is a specialized course of medical education designed to provide training specific to rural, primary care practice.  The evidence-based course of study was developed with the following goals: 
1.     Attract students from rural;
2.     Provide rural-specific training;
3.     Provide as much training as possible in the rural areas where they expect to practice; and
4.     Support students with a group of rural peers and mentors.

The Rural Health Option was formally approved by the Oklahoma State Regents in April 2009.  Enrollment in the Option courses has exceeded expectations, with nearly 25% of all students at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine enrolling in at least one of the Option courses.  The better than expected popularity is attributable in part to staff at the Center for Rural Health originally assuming that enrollment would be comprised almost entirely of students from rural backgrounds; however, this has been far from the case.  More than half of students enrolled in the Option courses have come from urban hometowns.

The project came to life through a Pre-Doctoral Training in Primary Care grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration. The plan was simple:  Train students where they plan to practice as much as possible.   To accomplish this goal, the OSU - COM needed to retain the first two years of biomedical sciences at the main campus in Tulsa, but the remainder of students' training could occur in the rural areas of the state.  Thus, the third and fourth years of clerkships could occur in the rural areas where students expected to practice, and rural-based, primary care residencies could be developed in each quadrant of the state for training following graduation.  

To support rural-based training, the OSU Center for Rural Health needed to conduct the following activities: 
  • Hire staff who live in each quadrant of the state to provide direct coordination of rural medical education activities;
  • Significantly expand early rural shadowing experiences (the Summer Rural Experience and the Early Rural Experience) between the 1st and 2nd years of medical school;
  • Develop two elective classes in rural health, Perspectives in Rural Health and Rural Medical Care;
  • Create a student rural medicine club, Students in Osteopathic Rural Medicine (StORM);
  • Introduce rural options for core rotations; and
  • Partner with rural hospitals to start two, new family medicine residency programs.
The Summer Rural Externship (SRE) and Early Rural Experience (ERE) were created to get students early exposure to rural areas observing rural family practice physicians.  The SRE provides students with two-credit hours of elective coursework for completing three, consecutive weeks of shadowing in a rural area.  The ERE provides students with more flexibility by allowing them to complete the rural experience over three, non-consecutive weeks.

Perspectives in Rural Health Elective is offered every Spring to 1st and 2nd year students.  The course includes informal presentations and lively discussions from rural physicians, hospital administrators, residency directors, and past students to help educate students on rural issues and to dispel many myths about rural practice.  Rural Medical Care involves more hands-on activity as students meet in the simulation lab to learn skills and techniques that are common to rural practice using mannequins and live models.  The popularity of these courses has helped generate interest in StORM, the student rural medicine club, which has attracted nearly two-thirds of all students at OSU - COM as members.

The four-month required Core block rotation, originally only offered in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is now available at three, rural sites in Durant, Enid, and Tahlequah.  While Durant has served as a family medicine residency site for many years, the Center for Rural Health worked with hospitals in Enid and Tahlequah to establish family medicine residency programs.  There are now active residency programs at all three sites, and all of the programs have filled their slots with residents for the coming program year.

The OSU Center for Rural Health congratulates the six graduates of its inaugural Rural Health Option Program, and it is looking forward to more graduates who will join them in the coming years.  By 2013, the Center for Rural Health is projecting 25 annual graduates from the Rural Health Option based on current enrollment numbers.  OSU is hopeful that these graduates will be the beginning of a much wider pipeline of highly qualified physicians who will be ready to increase the quality and quantity of healthcare that is delivered in rural Oklahoma.


OSU-CHS received $542,958 in grant funding for this project from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) at the United States Department of Health & Human Services.  Grant funding from HRSA accounted for 38% of the total project cost.  OSU-CHS contributed the balance of funding for the project.

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