As a member of the Southern Utah Area Health Education Center (SUAHEC) at Southern Utah University, Physician Assistant Student Emily Pierson had the opportunity to experience the power of a rural community firsthand. Southern Utah AHEC’s rural rotation program gives students the opportunity to participate in rotations to rural communities throughout the state of Utah. These rotations allow health profession students to look at the local healthcare environment and develop a greater understanding of how important quality healthcare is to our rural and frontier communities.
Through a partnership with the Utah Medical Education Council (UMEC), SUAHEC is helping to ignite a passion for rural medicine in the minds and hearts of the students who participate in the program. Pierson, a second-year physician assistant student, shared her experience participating in a recent rural rotation at the Pediatric Clinic in Price.
“For the past four weeks, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from Dr. Madsen and his amazing staff at the Pediatric Clinic in Price, UT,” she said. “Thanks to the Utah AHEC and UMEC, I had housing right in town near the practice and got to experience rural practice firsthand.”
Pierson further shared her experience participating in the rural rotations program. “Price and the surrounding towns are beautiful communities surrounded by incredible landscapes. I had the chance to work with many families on anticipatory guidance and preventive care, address acute concerns, and perform newborn exams and evaluations in the hospital nursery. I learned and accomplished more than I thought I could in just one month and am extremely grateful for this valuable and unique experience that will be a key part of my clinical training.”
The Utah Center for Rural Health/Southern Utah AHEC has been coordinating rotations like this for 26 years. Since the program’s development in July 1996, the amount of students beginning in the pipeline toward a health occupation has greatly increased.
“In the early days, we had an occasional student from one of our communities come back to conduct a rotation. Now, the majority of our rotations are from students who participated in one of our programs at some point in their early years,” said Rita Osborn, Executive Director of SUAHEC at Southern Utah University. “We cover 19 counties and I am amazed at how many students are returning to seek practice in these rural communities.”
By recruiting a student to do a rotation in a community, the hospital, local physicians, public health and community members can “showcase” their community and encourage the potential physician to contemplate beginning a practice in that locale, which increases the availability of quality healthcare in rural communities.
The mission of the Utah Center for Rural Health is to promote and enhance the quality of rural health through leadership, advocacy, coalition building and education, as well as to affect policy and legislation.