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Learning in Context with Rural & Frontier-Based Interprofessional Education

Many of us recognize that eastern Oregon is a vast and geographically isolated part of the state. Residents actively choose to call our beautiful region home, but sometimes this comes with a small price in terms of accessing healthcare. Residents often travel over mountain passes, through large canyons, and across remote areas with no cellular service just to reach health providers and services—at distances that sometimes exceed 75 miles each way.

Nevertheless, rural providers are innovative and use every strategy within their means to eliminate these barriers whenever possible. They also forge close and meaningful relationships with their patients that are not normally possible in larger areas. Yet, misconceptions exist about the unique way healthcare is delivered in eastern Oregon.

Northeast Oregon Campus for Rural Health:

Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU), Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (NEOAHEC), and the Northeast Oregon Campus for Rural Health (CRH) are on the forefront of enhancing learning opportunities in rural/frontier healthcare delivery. The Northeast Oregon CRH represents a dispersed learning community for graduate students in nursing, dentistry, medical, pharmacy, and physician assistant schools, with students at sites in both rural Union County and frontier Wallowa County. The emergence of the OHSU CRH in northeast Oregon in 2017 was the culmination of a 40-year history of high quality immersive rural and frontier educational opportunities though the OHSU School of Nursing and NEOAHEC.

The dynamic and interprofessional initiative provides students with immersive clinical experiences where they become part of the rural/frontier healthcare team. Participants give back to their host region by engaging in a community-based project, and in northeast Oregon students also participate in an in-person version of the CRH Interprofessional Education course. Generously funded by an OHSU Education Mini-Grant, this in-person concept engages students in weekly conversations about the core topic areas covered in the online course through the lens of rural/frontier.

Swimming with the Angel Sharks:

On April 5th, Northeast Oregon CRH Site Coordinator, Beckie Juarez, and NEOAHEC Executive Director, Meredith Lair, had the opportunity to present at the Educators’ Collaborative 2019 Symposium on Educational Excellence sponsored by OHSU. The presentation took the form of a 10-minute pitch at the Angel Shark Tank session, modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television show.

The duo described their weekly interprofessional panel that gives CRH students a rare and synergistic opportunity to engage with local healthcare experts from La Grande and Enterprise. Panel members from these communities have included the following providers: Jamie Jo Haddock, NP; Eli Mayes, DDS; Bob Coulter, RPh; Liz Powers, MD; Randi Movich-Fields, RN; Mike Farley, RPh; Stacey Whitaker, DO; Liz Wolotira, MSN; Keith DeYoung, MD; and Kevin Vandenheuvel, PA. Discussions explore an array of topics including social determents of health, access to care, coordination of care, and interprofessional experience relevant to our rural/frontier region.

“The goal is to provide students a more informed reflection of the rural experience and how it might impact their future career choices, along with an increased understanding of their engagement in the community-based projects,” said Meredith.

During their presentation, Beckie and Meredith also highlighted students’ favorable responses to the course, noting that they have enjoyed the authentic and free-flowing interactions between themselves and the clinicians. They noted the following student feedback:

“Great project. I appreciated learning about the community outside [of] the hospital”

“[The course] showed the difference between what the challenges are facing rural communities, which are quite different than those facing larger urban populations”

“The benefit was hearing about the lives and stories of the providers who worked in the rural setting”

After concluding their pitch to the Angel Sharks, Beckie and Meredith received useful, creative, and formative feedback to help guide the clinician panel to the next level. Beckie and Meredith were also paired with “Divemaster” Sarah Drummond, EdD—an assistant professor of physician assistant education at OHSU. She provided literature that helped to support the need for continued work on the project, and encouragement to consider transitioning the course into a research project.

“Giving a presentation with a short time limit to an audience that likely wasn’t familiar with our region was a great experience,” Lair reported. “It gave us a push to gather our work in a more formal way and identify opportunities for sustainability and growth. I’m excited to continue our work on this distinctive aspect of our campus.”

Beckie added, "We’ve provided a valuable learning experience for both students and clinicians participating in the course. It's wonderful to give students the opportunity to interact with healthcare providers outside of the clinic where they share their personal experiences of working in rural and frontier eastern Oregon.”

Learn more about the Campus for Rural Health here!