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The project encourages students to create rural practices.
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Health project brought students to rural Alberta

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A three-week pilot project that allowed 11 University of Calgary students to study and practice medicine in a rural environment is coming to a close. The Preclinical Networked Medical Education program gave medical students the chance to live in rural communities where they studied neurology, geriatrics and pain, a mandatory course for the undergraduates.

The project, funded by Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, runs from August 30 to September 17.

Dr. Doug Myhre, associate dean of distributed learning and rural initiatives at the U of C, spent the last ten years trying to effectively bring medical education to rural areas.

Three years ago, in collaboration with the U of A, Myhre established the Rural Integrated Community Clerkship -- a program that allows final year students to take their hands-on training in a small community or rural setting.

Myhre also took part in creating the Alberta Rural Family Medicine Network, a family medicine residency program that takes place in rural areas.

"The next goal was to get undergraduates out in rural areas earlier in their program and potentially for longer periods of time," said Myhre.

"It's a nice opportunity to get away from the lecture environment at the U of C," said Husain Khambati, a medical student participating in the program in Olds. "Over here we are in an environment where we take the class in the hospital. All the lectures are broadcasted via video link."

"It's good to see medicine from a different point of view, even if a student doesn't plan to practice in a rural setting," said Dr. Richard Buck, an emergency physician in Lethbridge and one of the supervisors of the program.

Myhre explained there is a shortage of general physicians in the medical industry. Generalists can be family doctors, general pediatricians and general psychiatrists.

"By training people only in the Foothills, people are exposed to very sub-specialized types of learning and practice," said Myhre.

Khambati said cases at Foothills Hospital are more acute and more short-term whereas the cases in Olds were for long-term care.

"With the course we are taking now, this is more an ideal site for things like that because the patients here are generally older and have more chronic issues than the ones at Foothills," said Khambati.

"The biggest benefit to the students is that there is obviously a small group of them out there, so they are involved in the first lines of care for the patient," said Myhre. "They are working one-on-one with their teachers and one-on-one with their patients.

Tara Daley, a student in Lethbridge, indicated one of the biggest drawbacks is being away from her class.

"I feel like we are missing a lot of the social aspects that are happening in Calgary," said Daley.

The program is now being evaluated through students, teachers, organizers and supervisors.

Myhre has big plans for the future.

"My hope for it is that we would eventually be able to have students that could apply for medical school and have a distributive process so they can be doing some of their medical education inside their home towns," said Myhre. "It would cut down costs and yet have the option to come into Calgary or tertiary care centers when it would be appropriate within their training."

Daley said the program has been a really good experience and is planning on continuing her studies and practice in a rural area.

"I think the sooner we can get students exposed to rural communities and regional communities and the lifestyles they have the more attractive they are," said Myhre. "The key to having the students go look at careers and communities in rural and regional Alberta is getting them to know the doctors and the people in those communities on a long-term basis starting very early in their training and they get to see how rewarding and fulfilling this type of work is."

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