A Student-Run Outreach Clinic for Rural Communities in Appalachia

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Abstract

East Tennessee State University's Department of Family Medicine (DFM) implements a student-run outreach clinic series that addresses health care needs of communities in the southern Appalachians. Offered during the third-year family medicine clerkship, the clinics link academic family physicians and students with community health care providers. Services vary with each community's needs, but include history taking, physical examinations, patient education, and testing. The planning and implementation that begin with an annual meeting of faculty and community representatives include visits by DFM personnel to the rural communities and orientations of medical students conducted by faculty and community representatives. Students rate this experience highly because it provides them with useful hands-on experience, reasonable autonomy, collaboration with community providers, and understanding the needs of the underserved. Community hosts rate students highly in their respect for patients, sensitivity to confidentiality, and professionalism. Identified weaknesses are attributed to the fact that the outreach clinics were established in response to community needs and did not follow a careful curricular development. There was little attempt to standardize the procedures performed by each student or the amount of direct observation and feedback they received from their preceptors. Changes are underway that will strengthen the educational value of the outreach clinics. Participating students are provided a daylong orientation during which they practice full and focused physical examinations and review common medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and depression. Students also now document the patients encountered, their medical problems, and the clinical skills practiced.

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