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Passion for rural health fostered during undergrad years by KU School of Medicine

August 27, 2019

Undergraduates in the Scholars in Rural Health program get assisntace from medical student Bethany Zidek

Second-year medical student Bethany Zidek, center, assists students in the Scholars in Rural Health Program, which began in 1997 and helps prepare undergraduate students for rural medical practice.

By Belinda Venters

College students who hail from a city maybe a sixteenth the size of Wichita, or who didn't have a neighbor for several miles get it. The "it" is the unique lifestyle of a rural Kansas physician where patients may need to travel to a hospital, specialists visit once a month, and the physician may treat an entire family from grandma to the newborn grandchild.

The Scholars in Rural Health program, which began in 1997, was created to identify and encourage undergraduate students to discover the rewards and challenges of rural medical practice and to help them prepare for that practice now and during medical school. Students apply for the program in the second semester of their sophomore year in college and upon successful completion of program requirements and graduation from their undergraduate institution, they are assured admission to KU School of Medicine.

"Being a member of Scholars in Rural Health has benefited me in many ways, said Bethany Zidek, second-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita from Onaga, Kansas. "I gained admission to KUMC, met wonderful physicians across Kansas, experienced valuable patient interactions and strengthened my love of rural Kansas."

At the foundation of the program, during the junior and senior undergraduate years, scholars learn at the side of an assigned mentor at clinics and hospitals in the region of the scholar's home community.

"A guaranteed seat at KU School of Medicine two years early is the biggest perk," said K. James Kallail, Ph.D., associate dean for research in the Office of Research at KU School of Medicine-Wichita and program co-creator with Sandra McCurdy, former KU School of Medicine associate dean for admissions. "The other perk includes spending two years working with a rural primary care mentor. These students come to medical school well prepared because of the mentorship."

Scholars are recruited in a variety of ways. The admissions dean visits every college each year to talk to premeds. Kallail presents at the annual Premed Student Conference and, normally, also at the Premed Advisors Conference hosted by KU. It is not uncommon for former students and mentors to promote and advocate for the program.Scholars in Rural Health practice compressions on a manikin

"The Scholars in Rural Health program gave me my first taste of what it looks like to be a physician, and it really lit the fire in me for rural medicine," said Jennifer Mettling, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita from Ulysses, Kansas. "Through SRH, I was able to better grasp the rigor of medical school and patient care through the case reports we wrote on patients and the hours spent in the clinic and hospital."

Out of the 28 current scholars, 13 will matriculate to KU School of Medicine and 15 others have another year in the program before they matriculate.

Current scholars come from schools across the state: The University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Fort Hays State University, Southwestern College, Benedictine College, Friends University, University of St. Mary, Sterling College, McPherson College and Newman University.

The program is coordinated by Brian Steele, M.S.Ed., assistant dean for Admissions, and Jason Edwards, M.Ed., director of Premedical Programs, and is assisted by Mike Kennedy, M.D., FAAFP, associate dean for Rural Health Education, all from KU School of Medicine. Regional medical education directors from Quinter, Burlington, Moundridge, Dodge City and Pittsburg also participate.

Annual program meetings take place in the spring. The undergrad attendees learn more about the admissions process to med school and review the progress of their requirements with faculty members. Time is devoted to introducing the students to the Rural Medicine Interest Group, which they can join once they're med students.

They also hear speakers talk about life as rural health physicians. In addition to speakers, there are hands-on workshops and demonstrations. For example, this year they learned how to suture and how to work with manikins in the Wichita's med school Simulation Lab. Senior Scholar graduates are recognized by Garold Minns, M.D., dean of KU School of Medicine-Wichita. It is a great opportunity to meet faculty, staff and current and former scholars.

"Joining the Rural Medicine Interest Group has kept me focused on my goal of becoming a physician in rural Kansas," said Zidek. "RMIG has brought in many exciting speakers who have taught me much about what goes into being a rural physician. Our meetings continue to inspire and excite me to go back to the place I call home and serve the community that loves and supports me."

There are many reasons why med students feel pulled to rural medicine.

"I hope to practice rural medicine because I operate best when I have an established relationship with a patient and know more than just their life inside the clinic doors," said Mettling. "I'm also aware of the unique challenges rural Kansans face with limited access to health care, and I want to help make my future rural community a safer and healthier place to be."

Learn more

Applicant eligibility, the selection process and program requirements can be found on the Scholars in Rural Health page. For additional information, contact Jason Edwards, M.Ed., director of premedical programs, at KU School of Medicine at 913-588-5280.

Pictured above, at right: Students in the Scholars in Rural Health program practice compressions on a manikin.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: Aug 27, 2019
Media Inquiries:

Belinda Venters

KU School of Medicine–Wichita
Public Affairs
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214

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