Medical students experiencing rural medicine, life in Clarendon, Sumter counties

jholleman@thestate.comSeptember 15, 2013 

Janessa Hill, sitting, and Jordan St. John are spending their third year of medical school at Clarendon Memorial Hospital in Manning and Tuomey Regional Medical Center in Sumter, part of an effort to connect students at Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Spartanburg with rural areas.

JOEY HOLLEMAN — jholleman@thestate.com

In her first few weeks as a third-year medical student, Janessa Hill sewed up an alligator bite injury. Classmate Jordan St. John got stuck behind a tractor on a two-lane road on the way to work.

As members of the first group of third-year students doing their clinical year at Clarendon Memorial Hospital in Manning and Tuomey Regional Medical Center in Sumter, it hasn’t taken them long to appreciate the small-town attitude.

“Being from big-city Phoenix, it’s a nice change,” Hill said. “The patients say, ‘Oh I saw you in the paper,’ and they recognize you. They’ll say ‘My husband was in the hospital the other day and told me about you.’”

Hill is in the first third-year class at the Spartanburg campus of Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). Osteopathic medical schools teach the same methods of diagnosis and treatment as traditional schools while also teaching hands-on techniques that rely on the manipulation of joints and bones to treat health problems.

The school opened in 2011 with a goal of providing more primary care physicians in the state, especially in rural areas. That goal will be even more important because of the number of the rural uninsured gaining health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. One of the concerns is there won’t be enough rural doctors to treat all of the new patients. VCOM’s partnership with rural hospitals could help fill that void.

Many of the third-year students have been encouraged to leave Spartanburg and spend their clinical rotations at rural hospitals in the state. Eleven will spend their third year alternating between Clarendon and Tuomey.

Clarendon in the past occasionally got students from medical schools for six-week rotations, but this is the first time the 51-bed facility has hosted students for a full year, said Dr. Catherine Rabon, the hospital’s chief medical officer. Typically, the third-year students from traditional medical schools in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville end up in big-city hospitals.

The town of Manning has rolled out the red carpet for the VCOM students.

The local newspaper, the Clarendon Citizen, ran the students’ photos and biographical information. Church groups offered to make dinners for them. More importantly, the hospital staff has embraced them.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to do things and see more things,” St. John said. “At a regular teaching hospital, there are other people who are above you as far as residents who get the attention. It’s nice to get a little more experience that’ll help me in the long run.”

Hill’s experience with a gator bite is an example. Because she is interested in emergency medicine, the emergency department staff calls her to come watch, and help when appropriate, if they get unusual cases. “I definitely wouldn’t get that in a big hospital,” Hill said.

“They’re getting good exposure to bread-and-butter medicine,” said Rabon, who sees it has a win-win situation.

“It’s a learning experience for me, too. I was excited to bring the students here for two reasons. One is to help with recruiting. If they come here and they like it, hopefully that will help our medical staff grow in the future. And it also can improve the quality of our own medical staff because, if you are able to teach it and talk about it, you have to know it.”

St. John, who hails from Tennessee, spent his first two years at VCOM’s Blacksburg, Va., campus. “The first two years, it’s just classes,” he said. “It’s nowhere near reality.”

For St. John, the new reality is doing rounds with an attending physician and discovering rural patients are every bit as complicated as urban ones. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about finding a parking space or having a long, difficult commute.

“Traffic’s usually not an issue,” he said. “But I did get stuck behind a tractor one day.”

Hill laughed. “I did, too,” she said.

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