Rural Oregonian students ‘take pulse’ of medical school life

“The barrier in rural Oregon is that if a student is not exposed to someone who can set the record straight, they will never know otherwise. This is why outreach to these areas is vitally important.”

- Joe Volpi, MS2
Prineville, Ore

How do premed students with aspirations of one day donning scrubs and using a stethoscope in their professional lives navigate the complex road to medical school?

For many, it’s through their premedical advisors at their college or university, and mentors. For rural students, however, the path is sometimes unclear due to a lack of access to resources such as advising, mentors and role models. As a result, they are often less competitive than their urban peers when applying to medical school.

Recognizing this, the OHSU M.D. Program launched the A Day in the Life program in May of 2011. The two-day long program, which is free to all invited participants, offered students a firsthand peek of life as an OHSU medical student, from the admissions process to an overview of the curriculum, culminating at the Clinical Assessment Center where they learned about the importance of medical simulation.

“We want students to leave the program with a good understanding of what it takes to be a competitive candidate to medical school,” said Debbie Melton, Director of Admissions for the School of Medicine. “Also, how and why they should be testing their motivation to ready themselves to enter the field of medicine.”

The program was developed by Melton in collaboration with Brenna Dunlap, Associate Director of the Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (AHEC).

From 80 applications, 12 undergraduate college students were selected for the inaugural program, hailing from institutions as far away as Eastern Oregon University, Central Oregon Community College, Mount Hood Community College, and Southern Oregon University. They grew up in Pendleton, Enterprise, La Grande, La Pine, Madras, and many other rural towns.

Joe Volpi, MS2Participating students, most who were freshmen and sophomores in college, also received an individual one-on-one assessment concerning their current academic path. “These sessions help students focus on the best courses to take, as well as helping them to make informed decisions about entering medicine,” said Melton. “We hope to provide them with a sense of empowerment that they can do this, it is not out of reach for them.”

Current OHSU medical students from rural Oregon communities served on a panel as peer mentors. They shared their experience as medical students and fielded questions from the participants.

Joe Volpi, MS2, who was raised in Prineville, said he was aware of health care careers growing up but never really saw medical school as a reality. “I always thought that becoming a physician was cost prohibitive and that it was mainly a profession where you had to know someone to get in to the field,” said Volpi. “Now that I am a medical student at OHSU, I know that is not necessarily true. The barrier in rural Oregon is that if a student is not exposed to someone who can set the record straight, they will never know otherwise. This is why outreach to these areas is vitally important.”

Pursuing a medical education in any field, be it nursing, P.A., or M.D., can be intimidating. Reaching out to rural Oregon and bringing qualified students to campus to show them what medical school is all about can relieve that anxiety, said Volpi.

Programs such as A Day in the Life are not only an important first step in launching the medical careers of rural students, but studies show that students from these areas are likely to return to their hometowns to practice, thus feeding the important workforce pipeline to those communities.

“I can't imagine a better way to help premed students from rural Oregon take the ‘pulse’ of this famous school and try on the hat of a medical school student,” said a participant of the program. “I had read every line of the School of Medicine’s website prior to the program, and was pleased to learn new specifics about admissions criteria, curriculum, and goals of the school each step of the way.”

Another participant mentioned that the most valuable aspect of the program was to be briefly immersed in the culture of OHSU, and to see the faces behind the name. This allowed her to dispel some stereotypes and realize that the OHSU School of Medicine allows students to be themselves and values collaboration over competition. “I left with great motivation to do what it takes to earn myself a seat in this fine school,” she said.

Melton and Dunlap said that the M.D. Program would like to continue the A Life in a Day program on an annual basis. “The program is moving toward becoming more interdisciplinary,” said Dunlap. “The OHSU P.A. program participated for the first time this year. We plan to expand the program to also include the schools of dentistry and nursing.”

Pictured: A participating student in the simulation lab