JOHNSON CITY, TN - Recent national trends show a lack of primary care physicians in rural communities. A local medical program is hoping to change those statistics. The Appalachian Preceptorship, presented through the Quillen School of Medicine, is a program that sets medical students on a path to rural primary care. The program is split between classroom lectures and first-hand experience. It involved practicing medicine alongside doctors in rural communities.
"The students are in a rural or underserved community for three weeks getting to learn what rural medicine is all about, what primary care is about, and then they're here for a week at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine learning about about our area," says rural programs coordinator Carolyn Sliger.
Sliger says there is a shortage of physicians in rural Tennessee counties across the state.
"People need access to health care, they need affordable health care, and when we don't have physicians in our rural areas then they have to drive an hour to two hours to get health care," she says.
Matthew Holt is a rising second-year medical student at Quillen who is originally from the Morristown, Tennessee area. He along with half of the students shadow doctors in Mountain City. The other half shadow in Rogersville.
"As soon as I got to Mountain City, meeting the patients, meeting the providers, they're really advocates for the patients up there," he says.
Holt says the doctor-patient relationship in a rural community is different than an urban setting.
"To see that connection, just the sacred relationship between the physician and the patient, I think it's even further exemplified in the rural setting because a lot of times the patients really just don't know what to do for their health and that physician has to advocate for them," he says.
Justin Pinkston is shadowing doctors in Rogersville. Like Holt, he agrees that there are indeed major differences in rural primary care.
"You work with limited resources-- they can't afford their appointments, they can't afford their medications and you know to get a pharmacy and the drugs, you feel like you learn how to just work with whatever you can do," he says
Sliger says 75-percent of students who participate in the Appalachian Preceptorship do go into rural primary care in an under served area.