Tonantzin Rodriguez has always wanted to be a doctor. She grew up in Linda, California, a small, rural town without its own zip code.
Now in her second year at the UC Davis School of Medicine, she plans to head back to the small town setting after she becomes a doctor.
“When I imagine myself becoming a doctor, I always imagined taking care of families in a small community,” Rodriguez said. “It has always been the goal I’ve had in mind.”
For this reason, she applied to UC Davis School of Medicine and the Rural-PRIME (Programs In Medical Education) program.
One of five UC programs aimed at helping California’s underserved populations, Rural-PRIME, which began in 2007, focuses specifically on training physicians to practice medicine in rural areas.
“All five University of California medical schools now have a PRIME program,” said Rebecca Miller, the Rural-PRIME coordinator. “UC Davis focused on Rural-PRIME because of our location and how we serve the majority of Northern California.”
A rural area is determined by state and federal guidelines, according to its population size and other criteria. The Rural-PRIME program has teamed up with hospitals in Jackson, Truckee, Redding and local areas around Davis.
Estimates show that by 2015, California will face a shortage of medical professionals, especially in rural areas where only 9 percent of doctors provide care to 20 percent of California’s population, according to the Rural-PRIME web site.
“We are looking to address this need [of physicians] specifically in rural communities by training the next generation of rural doctors,” Miller said.
Rural-PRIME currently has 33 students enrolled, admitting an additional 12 each year. Students who choose to apply for the program tend to come from rural areas themselves and want to go back and practice in those areas, much like Rodriguez.
“Since California is the leader in medicine and research, it’s important to give back and what better way to do that than to help the underserved, lower income communities,” Rodriguez said.
Miller said that students enrolled in the Rural-PRIME program feel the need to give back to their communities.
“These students understand that these rural areas really need physicians and they want to be that doctor who would do anything for their patients,” Miller said.
As an integrated program, students enrolled in Rural-PRIME have the same requirements as their peers for the first two years. To provide a rural twist to their education, Rural-PRIME adds a doctoring program in which students learn about taking medical history and physical exams, Miller said.
In their third year of study students have the opportunity to live at rural hospitals where they focus on various areas as primary care physicians.
“By living there, the students really get invested in the communities,” Miller said.
Although much of the curriculum is the same, the goal of the program differs from the typical medical education by creating a new model of medical practice in non-urban areas. It concentrates on providing the most up-to-date knowledge with cutting-edge technologies.
“I feel lucky that I’m able to have such a unique experience and not only practicing and learning the skills from class but also being a rural community doctor,” Rodriguez said.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.