Rural areas notoriously struggle to recruit and retain physicians, causing gaps in medical care for its residents. Programs such as the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford (UICOMR) aim to support rural areas by training future physicians and placing students in these places.
Sarah Bush Lincoln partners with the UICOMR to host some of its Rural Medical Education (RMED) students. Each student completes an immersive, 16-week, clinical rotation at an RMED collaborating Illinois hospital in their fourth year of medical school. Matthew Holaday, UICOMR RMED student and SBL clerk, selected Sarah Bush Lincoln because of its close location to home and strong reputation. The Arcola native wanted to return to his hometown for his rotation, so he reached out to Family Physician Robert Biggs, MD, who practices at the SBL Arcola Clinic.
“All of these pieces came together, and I was able to come back to my community and this reputable organization. It’s pretty humbling caring for the people you grew up with,” Holaday insisted.
Rural communities have specific challenges that urban areas may not. Holaday explained that part of the RMED curriculum involves the added study of rural health issues, such as the effects of pesticides, crush injuries from farming, and suffocation from falling into grain silos. Nearly 80 percent of RMED graduates practice in towns of less than 20,000 people.
“In order to stress the importance and impact that a physician has on a community, we complete a rotation in a small town. It doesn’t feel like an assignment because the goal is to make an improvement in your community. This experience is more personal to me because this is my hometown,” Holaday emphasized.
Each RMED student completes seven rotations in areas such as family medicine, emergency medicine, and psychiatry during their third year of medical school. Last year, Holaday decided on psychiatry unexpectedly after his first rotation in that area. He was blown away by the psychiatry patients’ gratitude for doctors who take their issues seriously and treat them properly.
“Mental health is something that was stigmatized for a very long time, and people were not encouraged to talk about it. I felt like I could empathize with them through those very personal and powerful experiences in my clerkship. Anyone can have mental health issues, so access to those services is vital,” Holaday stated.
During his rotation at the SBL Arcola Clinic, Holaday and Dr. Biggs both visit with patients and decide on the best treatment together, giving Holaday hands-on experience practicing medicine and opportunities to hone interpersonal skills. Dr. Biggs completed a similar rural medicine program in 2010, so he understands the importance of exposure for these students. Since the third grade, Dr. Biggs knew he wanted to become a doctor and help other people. However, he was not sure where he wanted to practice, and he even changed his specialty from pediatrics to family medicine during his time training under a doctor in the RMED program.
“This program helps us recruit providers in an area where it’s hard to recruit. I love my rural practice. The most satisfying part of my work is caring for multiple generations and knowing you are a part of people’s lives. And I try to convey this to students,” Dr. Biggs said.
For more information about Sarah Bush Lincoln’s professional development programs, please contact Tracey McCord, professional development coordinator, at 217 238-4987. For more information about the UICOMR RMED program, please contact Mark Meurer, UICOMR Assistant Director of Recruitment & Public Relations, at 815-395-5782.