Healing the Path to Medical School

Published: April 18, 2014 | Read Time: 3 minutes

The average student completes 16.5 hours of homework in a week, and for students desiring to enter the medical field the number of hours clocked doing homework increases dramatically. But to get accepted into medical school, it takes more than a 4.0 grade point average; it’s also going to take an immense amount of service hours.

This is where Southern Utah University’s Rural Health Scholars comes into play.

Rural Health Scholars is a program for all aspiring physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and any other medical practicing professional, to help give the support and opportunities necessary to get into medical school and thrive in the field.

Beginning their freshmen year students join the Rural Health Scholars and start to connect with various community doctors in their desired field.

Whether students are driving to Beaver, Utah to conduct health screenings at the low-income clinic or flying to the Dominican Republic to give dental care to remote villages, involved students give health care to more than 3,000 people every year resulting in an average of 15,330 hours in an academic year for the 310 students currently involved in the program.

Alongside certified doctors, these pre-med students are receiving the experience required for a doctor to not only be smart, but to be compassionate, a vital quality according to Rita Osborn, associate director the Utah Center for Rural Health.

“Years ago to get into medical school, it only depended upon your grades,” she said. “Now we realized that is better to have a well-rounded doctor—a doctor that is more than a lab rat. We want doctors who are kind, compassionate and are leaders. It is this holistic approach that creates the best doctors.”

And the formula to creating the best doctors is found within Rural Health Scholars, and it is more than just attending a few service events.

It begins by students participating in several service activities to ensure that they have chosen the right medical field, connecting with local doctors and beginning to shadow them.

After merely attending activities, Rural Health Scholars administrators ask students to create a legacy project, also known as a project that a student can take credit for and increase leadership skills.

Legacy projects students have created are the Beaver Low-Income Clinic, podiatry clinics for the homeless in Las Vegas, Nev., cultural immersion trips to Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Native American reservations, and health clinics in Las Vegas.

And the effect the Rural Health Scholars has seen in its students is outstanding. In its 10-year life span, the program boasts an average 90 percent medical school placement rate with its students.

One of these students is Rebecca Powell—finance major from Ivins, Utah and was recently accepted into the University of Utah School of Medicine—who stated that it is because of Rural Health Scholars that she has been able to find academic success.

“So many of my academic opportunities has come from this program,” Powell said. “During my time here I have been able to travel to the Dominican Republic once, Las Vegas three times and the Beaver Low-Income Clinic multiple times. I have gained confidence in my skills and now I know I want to continue serving these underserved populations.”

It is this idea of serving underserved populations that Rural Health Scholars was first formulated. The program, as stated by Osborn, was designed to give pre-medical students exposure to rural medicine, in the hope of increasing chances of them staying in those communities once they graduate.

“Many small communities face a problem of keeping doctors long-term, so in this program we focus on getting students from rural towns who need the support and resources because those are the students who will go back to their home towns after they become licensed doctors,” said Osborn.

But this support to future doctors doesn’t begin in college, Rural Health Scholars hosts summer camps for high school students and career awareness programs for seventh to 12th grade students.

Rural Health Scholars is a stem of Utah Area Health Education Centers (Utah AHEC). SUU’s health center has now branched out to Dixie State University and soon will be located at Snow College. 

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