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Training Doctors to Serve in Rural Settings

“As a rural doctor, you are tightly woven into a community, a situation which always presents its own joys and struggles.”

MSU's College of Human Medicine Rural Community Health Program

The Rural Community Health Program (R-CHP), led by Dr. Andrea Wendling, is the newest rural training track in MSU’s College of Human Medicine (CHM). Together with Program the Rural Physician at the Upper Peninsula Regional Campus, students participating in R-CHP are eligible for the Leadership in Rural Medicine certificate.

The Traverse City R-CHP program includes three rural educational communities — Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Alpena. Pilot students from this campus have completed almost eight months of clinical training shared between Traverse City and their rural educational community. Students report that their clinical experiences have been exceptional and R-CHP students’ clerkship performance (including testing and logged experiences) has been at or above the level of peers.

The Midland Regional campus R-CHP pilot program started with two students in January 2014. However, a subsequent grant of $378,000 from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation has provided funding to support expansion of R-CHP at the Midland Regional campus. “The Dow Foundation grant is a tremendous benefit for our program in Midland,” said Wendling. “We’ll be able to bring in more students more quickly.”

Wendling, who is a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine in the College of Human Medicine, said there is a pressing need for physicians in rural communities. “Rural America is our largest underserved population. The percentage of US graduates who intend to practice in rural areas has continuously decreased over the past decade,” she said.  

“As a rural doctor, you are tightly woven into a community, a situation which always presents its own joys and struggles,” Wendling continued. “I like working with students as they build relationships with patients, begin to understand the community, and start to creatively problem solve their way through the challenge each patient presents.”

Each year, up to twelve students are selected for the Rural Community Health Program. The goal of R-CHP is to provide students with enriched clinical experiences, rural public health leadership opportunities, and small town lifestyle experiences that will encourage R-CHP alumni to establish rewarding practices in Michigan’s rural communities.

R-CHP students receive clinical education from Michigan State University faculty and CHM-selected board-certified volunteer physicians in Northern and mid-Michigan. Rural communities participating in R-CHP have been selected based on exemplary educational and clinical opportunities they offer. Students also have the chance to work with the Family Practice Residents at Munson Medical Center or mid-Michigan Medical Center-Midland.

The R-CHP curriculum emphasizes a caring, compassionate, humane approach to the doctor-patient relationship and includes exposure to Rural Community Health and Rural Leadership training.

Dr. Wendling is a rural family physician in Northern Michigan and an associate professor and director of the Rural Health Curriculum for Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. She has received many teaching awards including CHM’s Outstanding Community Volunteer Faculty award in 2012, the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2004, and the American Academy of Family Physician’s Pfizer Teacher Development Award in 2000. Dr. Wendling is on the editorial board for Family Medicine. She is the national chairperson for the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.