How a Rural Health Program got ME into Medical School
“Kinda place you can’t wait to leave, but no one does”
I came from a small town. Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana, U.S.A. Corn fields, Friday night lights, and basketball hoops on every barn. Hunt and fish when I can. The rest of the time I now put people to sleep for a living. But if it wasn’t for that small town background, my life likely would be very different, and maybe I wouldn’t have that M.D. at the end of my name.
As I finished up high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a future in medicine. Of course, you have no idea what medicine is really like (and you won’t until well through medical school), but I had the grades and the ambition to have interest in pre-med as a senior in high school. About an hour from where I grew up, Indiana State University had a unique pre-med program. They would take people from rural areas of Indiana and lead them into medical school at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM). The goal being, that by giving people from rural backgrounds a great education with an emphasis on rural medicine – maybe one day those same people would come back and practice primary care in the medically underserved areas of Indiana. Rural medicine for rural people, and the guidance to make that dream a reality.
When I was a high school senior, I had shadowed in a primary care office in a town even smaller than the area I grew up. From that I had developed an early interest in primary care and rural medicine. Being a strong candidate with the right interests and background, the Rural Health Program appealed to me. I am generally very personable and find I connect well with people of many different backgrounds. The idea of caring for people from their youngest to oldest days was something that always felt important to me. As I shadowed more and more, primary care felt like a natural fit. If the goal was to go to medical school and possibly enter rural primary care, what better place to go than a program that lined it all up for you!
I applied the fall/winter of my senior year of high school and was excited to be accepted! The program had great benefits: Full tuition at Indiana State University and upon completion of the program – nearly guaranteed matriculation into Indiana University School of Medicine. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch; the requirements of the program were certainly vigorous. In addition to graduating Indiana State’s Honor Program in a major of your choice, you had to maintain at least a 3.5 GPA. When it was time to take the MCAT, a required minimum score was to be at least equal to the mean score at IUSM for the prior year admission class. There were also many other important requirements of the program including: a research experience after your freshman year, shadowing during sophomore year, and community service while a junior. Regularly scheduled MCAT study sessions were also required. Of major significance however, there was no set requirement that you go into rural medicine or primary care following medical school.
Very simply, the program requirements helped you build a very successful resume for medical school. Such that, if you completed these successfully, you would be a very strong candidate for many medical schools on your own merits – but your admission into IU was already set.
I was able to thrive under the program. With their guidance, I developed great experiences that not only went well on a resume, but I have carried with me throughout my medical journey. I worked with IUSM professors completing research during undergrad, I went all over rural Indiana shadowing amazing physicians, and was able to have a great volunteering experience in my home town helping underserved medical populations at a free clinic. At a small to medium-sized college like Indiana State, I was about to get an excellent education with often individual attention from professors – such that I was able to graduate with a 4.0 GPA with a Chemistry degree at the end.
The MCAT was more of a challenge and at first I was disappointed when I didn’t reach my goal of the prior year average. As I discussed in my post To Retake the MCAT or Not? Why I am happy that I did! I ended up changing my study habits and was able to actually beat that required average score the second time around. A great deal of that success was due to the support of the program and my own push to reach that milestone score. I ended up being among the first couple of classes to develop the MCAT study sessions which are a formal requirement now.
As promised, I was quickly accepted into IUSM during my senior year of undergrad, and was happy to accept. IUSM is unique in that for the first two years of the medical school, students are spread out across the state in 9 regional medical campuses. Again, with an interest in rural health, I requested to stay at the Terre Haute campus at Indiana State University. The experience was immensely positive – as I had already met and developed relationships with many of the professors through my time in the Rural Health Program. This made for a smooth transition into medical school and throughout those two years. As I continued my medical school education at the main IUSM campus in Indianapolis, I knew rural medicine and life were important to me.
A funny thing happened though, I also fell in love with the specialty of anesthesia. What it lacked in continuity of care and long-term patient relationship, it made up for in acute care and procedural medicine. I could still use my personal skills to make important first impressions with patients, but also have hands on experiences with some of the sickest patients in the hospital. I could not picture going back to the office setting of primary care, but the love of rural medicine was not lost on me.
The end result? Fast forward through residency, and I’ve now accepted an anesthesiologist job back in Terre Haute at the same hospital I had shadowed in and learned at all those years ago via Indiana State. I may not be the primary care physician that the Rural Health Program envisioned when they accepted me, but I like to think the experience and guidance lead me to where I am today. I certainly was a better medical school candidate because of it and developed a love of rural medical care. And now, I’m headed back “home” to serve rural patients in the same location I started, even if it’s in the field of anesthesia. I think that’s a win for both of us.
There are a lot of great programs across the country that help with matriculation into medical schools similar to the program I was a part of, many of them also in rural medicine or primary care. I HIGHLY recommend looking in to them. The guidance is unquestionably important when developing a strong medical school application and starts day one of college.
For more information about the Rural Health Program at Indiana State, here are a couple of links: