April 7, 2004 | By: Haven Miller

For the last couple of months Keisa Bennett’s schedule has been extremely busy.  That’s not unusual considering she’s a third-year medical student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and is used to studying long hours.

But what is unusual is where and how she’s been spending her time. Since early February, Bennett has lived in Morehead, not Lexington.  And a major part of her weekly schedule has been meeting with community leaders in addition to patients.

Keisa is part of a pilot project that soon will become a new Community Immersion program for medical students pursuing the rural training track. The idea is to “immerse” the student in a rural community so they can experience small town life and also sharpen their interpersonal communication skills.

“We want to help young physicians find a sense of connection to patients, and it’s through relationships that many of us are able to develop a sense of meaning and value of the work we do,” said Jennifer Joyce, UK family physician and predoctoral director for the department of Family Practice and Community Medicine. 

To better prepare graduating physicians, UK offers the rural training track which extends through all four years of a student’s training.

“We want students to be encouraged to follow their dreams of a rural practice and give them the tools they need to succeed,” Joyce said.

Working initially through UK’s Health Education through Extension Leadership program in the College of Agriculture, Joyce developed the pilot project in Morehead through on-site partnering with Rowan County Cooperative Extension agent Martha Perkins. Perkins served as liaison with the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center and also helped schedule meetings between the student and community leaders.

“I modeled it after the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Rowan County program where young professionals and emerging leaders go around and visit different community leaders and businesses to learn how the community operates,” said Perkins, who noted that Cooperative Extension places a high value on partnering with other agencies to bring new programs and opportunities to local communities.

During her two-month immersion, Bennett assisted a local doctor with patient examinations for part of the week, then for her remaining hours met with such people as the mayor, a school system representative, a university vice president, the economic development director and the head of the chamber of commerce.

“I think this is a great program,” said Morehead/Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rodney Hitch. “We want to encourage physicians to locate here and to make sure we have the best physicians available, and this is a great way for them to learn about eastern Kentucky.”

Bennett, who will graduate in May 2005, said getting to know the character of a town is extremely important to her education as a medical student.

“When you’re more connected to the community you’re more connected to the patients as well, and I’ve been able to tell patients about resources in town that they might not know about,” she said.

With the success of this pilot effort, UK hopes to expand the immersion project next fall to include more students and other eastern Kentucky counties.


Source: Martha Perkins, 606-784-5457