LOWVILLE — Five SUNY Upstate Medical University students took part in Rural Immersion Week at local medical facilities last month.
The five first-year medical students, Carolina V. Alexander-Savino of Bolivia, Tyler G. Fuller of York, Kyle A. Powers of Vestal, Almasa Talovic of Binghamton and Brandon J. Zaffuto of Rochester, are a part of the Rural Immersion Program at the university, supervised by Dr. Carrie Roseamelia.
This was the second year that Lowville has hosted this six-day program, which takes students interested in rural medicine and immerses them in a community.
Mr. Fuller, who also comes from a small town neighborhood, said the university hopes to bring more physicians to these underserved areas.
“The closest emergency room is 45 minutes or further,” he said. “That is something I had noticed, and I would really like to bring certain health care opportunities out into these rural areas.”
This year’s program featured one-on-one shadowing experience that allowed participants to observe physician-to-patient interactions as well as to spend time in specific fields of possible interest such as pediatrics, family medicine, surgery, orthopedics, emergency medicine and dermatology.
But first, students were sent on a scavenger hunt across the Lowville community. Their mission was to find local businesses, to learn how locals came to be in the community and what they enjoyed about living there and to understand what residents were looking for in a physician.
Miss Alexander-Savino said the scavenger hunt helped her to know the community better and “not just come to the hospital, but become oriented on the patient population we’re coming to serve.”
Miss Alexander-Savino attributed her college major decision to her background and being born in Bolivia, a place with very limited medical access: “Initially, I didn’t know I wanted to go into medicine, but then looking back at that aspect of merging science and helping populations in need, that was my interest,” she said.
Students also got to visit a farm, where Miss Talovic, said she enjoyed the chance to see some goats, an unusual experience for her.
“It was nice because I don’t live on a farm and I don’t hang out with goats on a daily basis,” she said with a laugh. “That was a really good time.”
Miss Talovic, who grew up in Bosnia, said her brother frequently visited the hospital for various illnesses before the moved to the United States. It was not until then that they were told her brother needed open heart surgery.
“It went fine,” Miss Talovic said about her brother’s necessary procedure, “but what I always wondered was if we had stayed in Bosnia, would they have ever noticed that? And if they had noticed it, would they have even had the opportunity to fix it?
Miss Talovic said she went into medicine to help families like hers that might not have had certain privileges.
“So, ideally I’d like to serve in some underserved community,” she said. “It can be with refugees, it can be in a rural community or with an urban population. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as I am helping people.”
While fun at times, the experience was also a chance to compare the challenges of rural health care, who face obsticles to quality health care. Some of these, according to the Centers for Disease Control, these include higher rates of death due to heart disease, cancer, unitentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke than urban Americans. Rural residents also tend to be older and may live farther away from medical facilities.
About these problems, Mr. Zaffuto said, “coming into a rural community and actually seeing it first hand, I think has shown me, at least, that yes there are these challenges, but there are also very good things about practicing in rural communities.”
Mr. Zaffuto, considers himself a non-traditional student who is older than the average first year university undergraduate. Despite having always wanted to enter the medical field, he believes his motivations have changed over time.
“What’s really been driving me lately is that I feel like we’re at a very exciting time in medicine with all of the new technologies that we have, all the new drugs that are coming out and all of the great research that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re at a point where we can make a huge impact. We really have a great opportunity to change the future.”
Mary Comet, with Lewis County General Hospital, was pleased to help with this program.
“I can tell you the physicians have loved having you,” she said to the students. “They call me almost every day to say ‘they’re so nice. They’re so polite.’”
The students equally expressed their appreciation for being able to take part in the experience, in particular to Dr. Daniel T. Root and Dr. Catherine L. Williams, who hosted them and “even let us use their hot tub” Mr. Fuller added.