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Vital Signs:
"Student for a Day" program hopes to recruit rural physicians

When three undergraduates from New Hampshire state colleges were invited to be Dartmouth "Medical Students for a Day," they discovered that medical school was not as scary as they'd expected it would be. Now there's a good chance that they'll apply to medical school. And, as an added bonus, they may choose to practice medicine in rural areas that are desperately in need of physicians.

Studies have shown that students from state institutions are more likely to enter rural practice than students from private colleges, according to Donald Kollisch, M.D., and Susan Linsey, M.A., codirectors of DMS's Rural Health Scholars Program, which prepares medical students to be leaders in providing medical care to rural and underserved populations. They dreamed up the "Medical Student for a Day" initiative as a way to entice qualified students in the state college system to consider attending medical school. The participants came from Keene State, Plymouth State, and the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Photo by Flying Squirrel Graphics
The DMS Rural Health Scholars at left showed a good time to the visiting "medical students for a day" at right.

Observe: Several DMS Rural Health Scholars—medical students who are interested in rural health care—hosted the visitors, who got to observe doctorpatient interactions at outpatient clinics, accompany physicians on rounds at DHMC, attend classes, and spend time with small groups of medical students.

"Suddenly medical school seemed a lot less intimidating," said Keene State student Allen Wellington. Less intimidating, perhaps, but very busy. Like real medical students, the visitors hurried from rounds at DHMC in Lebanon to classes on the DMS campus in Hanover and back to Lebanon for afternoon clinics. UNH student James Wylie shadowed an ophthalmologist, who let him look into patients' eyes and then explained what he was seeing. Steve Skinner of Plymouth State enjoyed going on rounds with the internal medicine team. "We all met in front of each patient's room and discussed the patient, then entered the room and checked up on the patient," he explained. Wellington attended rounds and clinics in psychiatry.

While seeing patients was a new experience for the visitors, the classes didn't seem all that different from the undergraduate courses they're used to. "The depth that the class went into did not seem like it was hard," said Skinner, who attended a lecture on infectious diseases and sat in on some small problem-solving groups.

The Dartmouth students pointed out, however, that while each lecture isn't that difficult to comprehend, there is a lot more material to learn in medical school than in college. "You have to find a way to keep it all in your head," Rural Scholar Christine Castro advised during a debriefing session at the end of the day.

Balance: But most of all, the visitors were impressed with how friendly the DMS students were and how they seem able to balance work with play. "There was clearly a great deal of camaraderie among students," said Wellington. "They were tossing Frisbees, playing wall ball, and shooting hoops. My conception of medical school life was one of all business and no play, but here were students taking time away from the library and the laboratory to enjoy a beautiful day with friends."

DMS student Castro agreed, saying the premeds seemed "surprised about how active med students are outside the classroom with things like volunteering and outdoor activities."

Kollisch and Linsey plan to host Medical Students for a Day several times during the coming academic year.

Laura Stephenson Carter

If you would like to offer any feedback about this article, we would welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.

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