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OHSU, Northeast Oregon AHEC and local hospitals team up to immerse medical students in rural health care and way of life

According to the National Rural Health Association, only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural America despite the fact that nearly one-fourth of the population lives in these areas.

“When I tell people who are not from a rural community that I wish to practice rural medicine they generally give me the same response. They react with a look of sympathy and congratulate me on my altruistic sacrifice to society,” said Nicholas West, MD candidate 2019, at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine, from Imbler, Ore.

This illustrates the undeniable need for the redistribution of primary care providers, but how?

“I believe physicians from small towns are more likely to return to small towns. By taking on a leadership role as a medical student from a small town, I hope to create more opportunities for medical students to experience what small-town life is like,” said Emily Thompson, MD candidate 2019 at OHSU, from Heppner, Ore.

First-year medical students Emily, Nick and Abigail Huddleston are part of a rural student advisory group to the assistant dean of rural medical education in the OHSU School of Medicine. During their spring enrichment week, May 23 to 25, these students along with Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (NEOAHEC) have planned activities in three communities in Northeast Oregon, including Heppner, La Grande and Pendleton. The opportunity was offered to all OHSU first-year medical students.

“We are pleased to work with NEOAHEC on this rural enrichment experience for medical students. We’re finding exposure to rural communities and rural medical practices opens students’ eyes to possibilities they hadn’t considered before, which will hopefully mean more rural physicians down the line,” said Paul Gorman, M.D., assistant dean for rural medical education, OHSU School of Medicine.

There is a desperate need in Eastern Oregon for competent, caring and dedicated health care providers who truly want to invest in the region. Rural communities want doctors who are just as excited to create a life and work in their rural town as the teachers, loggers and firefighters for whom they provide care.

Medical students will be immersed in rural health care delivery by participating in job shadows and having dinner with hospital leaders and providers. They will interact with local high school students and get a feel for why rural Oregon is a great place to live and play by enjoying extramural activities unique to the region. On their last day, students will come back together to discuss the experiences they had in the communities.

“Each medical community has been so gracious to invite students to shadow in their hospitals or clinics and provide dinner with an opportunity to meet with hospital administration and providers,” said Meredith Lair, executive director of NEOAHEC.

Grande Ronde Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital and Morrow County Health District will be hosting these medical students at their facilities.

“Giving my classmates the opportunity to learn more about and hopefully fall in love with rural Oregon, like I have, is what this trip is all about,” explained Abigail Huddleston, OHSU MD candidate 2019, from Seaside, Ore.

Nick West Abigail Huddleston Emily Thompson
Imbler, Oregon Seaside, Oregon Heppner, Oregon