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FSU Medical Students Visit Monticello

Heather Ainsley
ECB Publishing, Inc.

In late May, Florida State University College of Medicine invited dozens of medical students to participate in the Rural Learning Experience in Jefferson County. The goal of the event was to encourage those who would like to pursue a career in medicine to consider more rural areas to practice medicine after graduation. While large cities have the resources to offer higher salaries, that comes with living in a big city. By showing not only the need for medical practices in rural communities, but also the allure and benefits of living and working outside the hustle and bustle of the big city, FSU College of Medicine hopes to encourage individuals to consider it as an option.
The Village Learning Experience was made possible by the collaborative efforts of several local entities, including the Monticello/Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Health and Emergency Management. Local businesses, churches and individuals also participated in a group effort to coordinate a day of fun, education and exploration.
It all started bright and early at the Florida Department of Health where the medical students were treated to a tour of the facility and conversations with those involved in the medical services as well as the local food pantry program. The group then moved into the heart of the city, exploring all that the downtown area had to offer in terms of entertainment, spiritual services (churches) and dining options. A tour of many popular tourist attractions was provided including the local Jail Museum, Courthouse and Historic Monticello Opera House. Around noon the medical students headed to Florida/Georgia Citrus for a tour of the facility, lunch provided by Tupelos Bakery & Cafe and a panel discussion.
The panel featured five guests, each discussing a different topic related to rural life and the importance of medical resources for those living outside of larger urban areas, as well as the overall appeal of rural life. After the panel discussion, the group dispersed to grab dessert at Arctic Scoop or Mia’s Bakery. About 40 medical students attended, arriving back at the FSU campus around 4:30 p.m.
The primary goal of this day of exploration and education was to allow students to learn about Monticello and Jefferson County, explain the current state of healthcare in our region, and show where the needs are and what the needs may be for our county.
There were many medical providers at FL/GA Citrus, each handing out information and supplies to students. Several FSU College of Medicine staff members helped organize and direct the students:
Allison Justice, MMS, PA-C., assistant professor at FSU School of Medicine; Melissa Oglesby, student affairs at FSU School of Medicine; Martin Shipman, professor at FSU School of Medicine; and Emily Mueller-Nennstiel, PAS-1.
The FSU team was pleased with the response from the entire Jefferson community and believes the Rural Learning Experience has had a significant impact on the students who participated.
“This event was the first in-person RuLE (Rural Learning Experience) event in several years,” Justice says. “Our planning began in January, with a focus on deciding which counties we wanted to explore and visit, appointing department leaders for each county, and coordinating with community members. It “took a village” to make RuLE a success. I believe this visit was a success—our research on Jefferson County was validated and refined by our panel and the trip to Monticello. We were welcomed with open arms.”
“Several students expressed how much they enjoyed their time in Jefferson County,” Nennstiel added. “For students who have never spent time in a rural area, this experience gives them the opportunity to imagine living and working in a place like Jefferson County. We hope that students will feel more enlightened about the challenges and opportunities they would have if they chose to work in a rural area. Not understanding what it’s like to live and work in a small community is a barrier for students who choose this path, so we hope that this experience will help alleviate that barrier.”
“The benefits of healthcare providers living and working in rural counties are largely related to relationships,” Justice says, “where the greatest impact is seen. We’ve seen that building a relationship between a healthcare provider and a patient can improve health outcomes. If a patient knows that the healthcare provider has their best interests in mind, the patient is more likely to follow the recommendations of the provider. Health care providers living in small communities are often well-known and ‘cared for’ by the community. Rural communities are tightly knit and take care of each other.”
While it’s true that larger cities can afford higher salaries, some trade-offs are worth a slightly lower salary, and this educational event may help some students remember that after graduation.
“With the right provider, the sacrifice in paychecks will be more than compensated by the community,” Nennstiel says. “If you make an effort to serve and integrate into a rural community, hopefully they’ll appreciate your commitment to being there. Would you rather be one person who could do your job in a rural area or one of 200 people who could do your job in a place like a large hospital? Simply because of supply and demand, providers who serve the underserved can have a huge impact.”
Overall, FSU staff members said Jefferson County has had a great impact on medical students, showing not only the friendliness of our community but also the peace of life in a slower, more rural setting. While plans are underway to coordinate future visits, FSU staff members expressed gratitude to Jefferson County for its partnership.
“I’m incredibly impressed with the support we received leading up to and during our visit,” Justice said. “Organizing an event like RuLE takes a multi-faceted effort… We want to contribute to solutions, and we believe we can do that by engaging community partners… Students, faculty, and staff will be talking about this event for some time to come.”