Nurturing the education of Hoosier 'country docs' is job one at IUSM-Terre Haute
It takes a village -- and townspeople, civic leaders, the resources of several counties, a medical school and a state that's determined to address the daunting shortage of physicians -- to raise a crop of young doctors bound for practice in rural and underserved Hoosier communities.
And while the Terre Haute Center for Medical Education was established in 1971 as one of eight regional medical teaching facilities of the IU School of Medicine, a four-year program in the Wabash Valley was put into place only last year; the eight inaugural students on four-year rural track will be the first to begin their clinical studies on site in the Terre Haute area instead of rotating to the Indianapolis campus.
Students admitted to the Terre Haute rural-track program first run the gauntlet of admissions at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis and a second grueling process on the Terre Haute medical campus, which is located on the Indiana State University campus.
Those who make the cut for an interview in Terre Haute must then interview with the rural admissions committee which includes rural community members, said Taihung "Peter" Duong, assistant dean and director of IUSM-Terre Haute. Candidates' aspirations must include a clear vision of service to primary care in rural communities. Those chosen are Hoosier residents who have committed to serving rural communities -- 30 percent of the population -- in Indiana.
One of the 13 first-year students in the rural-track Class of 2013 is Katie Wood of North Vernon, who knew she was bound for medicine when she was seven years old. Her brother began to be treated for a long-term illness that later took his life. She was struck with the care and compassion extended to her family through difficult times. While she has a long educational experience to navigate, she is thinking toward a residency in pediatrics after receiving her medical degree.
She's up at 5 a.m. preparing for the core courses and labs she will take on that day. But in addition, her role as a first-year includes a rigorous course of "shadowing" -- taking part in the bustling patient-care environment of Dr. Jessy Woods, who practices in Sullivan and attended the two-year Terre Haute program before rotating to the medical school campus in Indianapolis. Both received liberal arts degrees from Hanover College. Wood shadows Woods to get an idea of the doctor-patient relationship and gets a mirror image of what her life might be like in the future.
Duong says that aging populations, obesity and the proliferation of meth labs in the counties surrounding Terre Haute have cut a swath of misery in rural communities that has only been exacerbated by a poor economy. At a recent "enrichment hour," students presented genograms of their rural longitudinal patients, an exercise done at noon over box lunches; faculty and students have little time not to multitask meals. The genograms chart the intertwined family relationships and the medical histories of patients and family members on both sides of the generations. During the course of their interviews and under the guidance of their preceptors, advice is given in matters related to genetic predispositions, nutrition and family resources, among other topics. The students also become familiar with the cultural and social scene of their rural communities. First-year students have already started a Science Club at the Ryves Youth Center this fall, and a regional community health fair organized and manned by students, has grown to the point that it will move, on Jan. 31, to the Hulman Center.
Duong, who is obviously revered by students, staff and faculty buzzing about Holmstedt Hall on a given day, is very modest and says he has the "easy job."
But he doesn't. His major concerns: funding and people.
The price of a medical education is astronomical, and the people part has to do with forging partnerships with clinicians, hospitals and the goodwill of townspeople who participate in the rural-track programming. It's an ongoing building process, especially in a tough economy.
Certainly, development of the program with ISU, the Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health at Union Hospital and the Indiana Rural Health Association, brings a sound grounding to the initiative, as well as ties to participating hospitals; Good Samaritan, Green County General, St. Vincent Clay, Sullivan County Community and Union hospitals in Terre Haute and Clinton. Many clinicians in the Wabash Valley attended IUSM-Terre Haute and are willing to lend their services, but more are always needed.
Two new partnerships have launched this semester; the family medicine rotation sites in Linton and Vincennes served Indianapolis students, and next year, rural-track students will rotate to these communities. Talk about a win-win. Local physicians provide clinical instruction and experience, and the local hospitals provide housing and food for the medical students.