Rural Missouri students gathered virtually this summer at the annual MU School of Medicine Bryant Scholars Summer Retreat. This program is just one of many programs that reflect the School of Medicine's ongoing commitment to training future medical professionals to help fill the national and local shortage of rural physicians.
The retreat would usually take place on campus, but this summer it happened virtually to protect the health of all involved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The facilitators used group video calls and online platforms to connect with students.
"Rural Scholars faculty and staff did an amazing job researching and implementing curriculum usually done hands-on to on-line," said Kathleen Quinn, PhD, associate dean for rural health. "It was a challenge but their enthusiasm was contagious. The students had fun adapting to the new innovative and creative ways of learning and working together."
Retreat leaders and speakers used the pandemic as an opportunity to discuss the importance of telehealth and how public health crises can affect rural and urban communities disproportionately. Students also learned important skills to carry into medical school, such as how to write a personal statement and build effective study habits.
"We have some amazing community-based faculty in our rural areas and at Mizzou that are involved that were past students," said Allison Fuemmeler, student service coordinator for the Bryant Scholars Pre-admissions Program and the Rural Scholars Program. "The beauty of the Bryant Scholars Program is that students also have a built-in family with their cohort."
The Lester R. Bryant Scholars Pre-Admissions Program encourages young people from rural backgrounds to pursue a medical education. Students have the chance to learn from rural physicians and Bryant Scholars further along in the program who act as mentors. Sixteen of the participating students are beginning medical school this fall, and 24 of the students are getting ready to start their senior year of undergrad at colleges and universities throughout the state. Students accepted into the pre-admissions program are offered acceptance into the MU School of Medicine on the condition they achieve certain academic standards, demonstrate ongoing professionalism and participate in required activities.
Emily Hinkle, an MU School of Medicine student from Morrisville, joined the Bryant Scholars Pre-Admissions Program while a student at Drury University. Hinkle experienced the challenges of seeking medical care in a rural area growing up and saw how the lack of access affected health outcomes for her community. This was her second time participating in a Bryant Scholars retreat. She plans to practice medicine in a rural area.
"I would encourage any student to try this program. It is a great way to get to know people who have done a lot in the field and learn a lot about the rural health team at Mizzou," Hinkle said. "The programs they put on are such great experiences in learning to better help patients."
Rebecka Ernst, a medical student from Savannah discovered the Bryant Scholars program through the Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a national program that focuses on bringing health care to medically underserved areas, and being mentored by a Bryant Scholar.
"I was always interested in rural medicine and improving access to care," Ernst said. "The Bryant Scholars Program has strengthened that commitment and passion. … One of the things I enjoy about the retreat is that it connects you to other students who are passionate about the same things you are. It feels easier to start medical school when I know that I can talk to someone who has done it before. I'm very thankful to be a part of the program."