Rurally based education: confronting social forces underlying ill health

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Skills needed by physicians to address and prevent our communities' leading causes of premature death–injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease, homicide, and suicide–are not in the typical roster of medical school learning experiences. And traditional, urban, hospital-based venues of medical education scarcely model for students appealing careers in the community. These twin problems are especially severe in rural America. Yet rural training sites are ideal locations for students to confront the array of social, political, and economic forces underlying ill health in our society. If learning in medical schools is to be suitable for rural practice, students must receive early and sustained exposure to rural communities and to rural physician role models. To facilitate this educational redirection, medical schools must (1) sensitize their existing faculty and residents to community health needs via in-service training on community health topics, (2) encourage faculty and residents to provide service and education outreach to rural communities, and (3) promote rural health research. Finally, to prevent the marginalization of rural health concerns within the academic agenda, efforts should be made to develop university-community partnerships in which model rural training practices and a “field” teaching faculty are established and nourished by the medical center.

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