A new rural track program is giving select University of South Dakota medical students the opportunity to fulfill nine months of their studies in a rural community hospital. In today’s Dakota Digest, SDPB’s Jilanne Doom takes a look at the FARM Program and how it will benefit the future of South Dakota rural medicine.
In a state with over half its population living in rural communities, providing quality healthcare in these small towns is a priority. That’s why Governor Dennis Daugaard’s South Dakota WINS program sets aside funds for a rural track program for USD medical students.
The FARM Program stands for Frontier and Rural Medicine. It sends six med students to different communities throughout South Dakota to complete their third year of study. While other med students rotate to different hospitals around the state for six week stints - these students will study in one rural location for the entire nine months. Director of the FARM Program Doctor Susan Anderson says it gives these students a more hands-on and unique experience.
“You know, in the larger communities, patients are able to self-select, go right to a specialist if they think that’s what they need,” Anderson says. “And really, we know that primary care can take care of 95 percent or more of patients' complaints and their health care needs. And so these students will also have the unique opportunity to see much more pathology. Because in a smaller community you don’t have the opportunity to select to go to a certain specialist. You go to your physician, your primary care physician that is located in that community.”
The six selected students are all in their first year at USD’s Sanford School of Medicine. Anderson says they were selected as self-directed, motivated students with an interest in rural medicine.
“We anticipated that maybe we would get a lot of student interest from similar size communities to the communities that these students will be going to, but actually we had applicants from all sizes of communities, including the largest communities in our state,” she says. “So the students really took advantage of this.”
David Kapperman is one of those selected students. He’s the only one from a community with a population less than 10 thousand. He says he’s looking forward to more exposure to family medicine.
“I grew up in a small community on a farm and, I mean, I was exposed to that primary care,” Kapperman says. “I had some shadowing experience there and there’s a lot more hands-on feel I believe. Also, there’s a great demand in South Dakota for primary care and particularly primary care in rural medicine. So I feel like there’s just a lot of opportunity to get involved and it just kind of seemed to fit my personality. I like that small town feel.”
The small towns that Kapperman and his colleagues will live in for the nine month period are Milbank, Mobridge, Parkston, Platte, and Winner. Gale Walker is President and CEO of Parkston’s Avera St. Benedict Health Center. He says he and his staff are looking forward to showcase the medicine available in rural South Dakota.
“We thought the opportunity to have someone here, living in our community, becoming integrated into the community, get them into the school systems, the chamber, and the commercial club,” Walker says. “And then also when you have a student, they’re able to bring some information to the existing staff here that’s the more current, modern, up-to-date thought processes in healthcare so it’s a two-way learning process for us.”
Walker says he hopes the experience will reshape the students' views on practicing in rural communities. Program director Susan Anderson says she hopes the experience leads students to choose rural medicine after completing their education.
“Well of course our hope is that by exposing students to the unique opportunities in rural medicine that will attract more students to consider that as an option for their eventual practice, when they have completed their medical education and their residency that they will come back to these rural communities to practice,” Anderson says. “That is our hope and our belief.”
Another new program provided through the South Dakota Department of Health is the Rural Healthcare Facility Recruitment Assistance Program. The program offers grants to working physicians to practice in rural facilities under a three-year contract. Because of high retention rates of healthcare professionals staying in these small communities in a similar program, the legislature is considering appropriating an increase in funding for the Recruitment Assistance Program. Office of Rural Health Administrator Sandra Durick says their program works closely with the FARM Program to improve rural medicine in South Dakota.
“When you think about rural healthcare in our state and the need for primary care providers, our program is actually to help rural communities recruit various health professionals to those communities,” Durick says. “So since we’re the Office of Rural Health, we work very closely with the FARM Program in helping them with promoting rural experiences to their students in hoping that someday they will want to practice in rural communities.”
“I do foresee myself, having grown up in South Dakota, attending school in South Dakota, staying here in South Dakota and hopefully finding myself in a rural community someday,” Kapperman says.
For med student David Kapperman - the incentives are nice but he doesn't really need it since practicing in rural communities is already his goal.
For SDPB, I’m Jilanne Doom.