Students receive financial award for commitment to stay in rural W.Va.MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Institute for Community and Rural Health has awarded six students from the WVU School of Medicine with scholarships for the 2012-2013 academic year in exchange for their commitment to practice in the state after graduation.
The intent of the scholarship is to reduce financial debt and enable quality health professionals to practice in rural areas of the state. Recipients are required to practice in a part of West Virginia that is considered either medically underserved or a health professions shortage area.
“These students not only represent the top of their class but are committed to providing care to people living in rural areas of West Virginia,” Larry Rhodes, M.D., director of the Institute, said. “I look forward to following the progress and future endeavors of these students and feel sure they will be a source of pride for their school.”
Graduating medical student Jason McNair of Maidsville received a $50,000 scholarship for a two-year commitment to practice in rural West Virginia.
“I was born and raised in a rural area. I feel that there is no better way to understand the healthcare challenges of West Virginians than to have been born a rural West Virginian. I care about the people of West Virginia,” McNair said. “Professionally, I look forward to being able to practice as much of a variety of medicine as possible, which would be demanded by a rural practice. Furthermore, I am very driven to have a positive impact on the community, and practicing in a rural setting would put me in a position to achieve this goal.”
Third-year medical students Garrett Butler of Morgantown and Sky Gwinn of Meadow Bridge each received $25,000 this year in addition to the $25,000 scholarships they received last year. In total, they have each committed to at least two years of practice in a rural setting.
Born in Nebraska, Butler is married to a Wetzel County native, and together, they have a daughter, who was born in Morgantown. “We’d like to keep our roots strong in this state,” he said. “My daughter will be a Mountaineer.”
Gwinn’s two-year rural health commitment will begin after he completes residency training and fulfills his four-year obligation to the U.S. Army.
“I share a similar background with those of rural West Virginia, and this will help me understand the values, challenges and concerns that many patients who come to my practice will have. I enjoy socializing with new people and look forward to building relationships with those I serve,” he said. “As an aspiring physician, my primary goal has been and always will be to assist the needy however I can, regardless of access to health insurance or financial status. I am dedicated to my future career and committed to serving the community I will be a member of to the best of my ability.”
Three first-year students – Virginia Horne of Purcellville, Va., William Johansen of Charleston, and Nathaniel Linger of Buckhannon – each received a $25,000 scholarship in return for a one-year commitment to practice in a rural area.
Horne believes her volunteer work has helped provide her with attributes that make her a good match for rural practice.
“I believe that it is essential for a rural physician to be able to work with limited resources at hand but also be able to recognize when advanced medical care is needed for a particular case,” she said. “Ski patrolling and volunteering as an emergency medical technician has allowed me to be able to problem solve and triage patients while remaining calm and collected.”
Johansen’s career goal is to be a rural physician specializing in wilderness medicine.
“Recognizing that effective physician-patient communication is a vital part of medicine, I believe my understanding of rural people and willingness to listen to their needs will serve me well in the future as a rural healthcare provider,” he said. “I also have a genuine interest in the lives of patients, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well. One of the benefits of living and working in rural communities is that they afford you the opportunity to get to know the people living in them. To be a rural physician means that you are more than just a healthcare provider – you are a neighbor and become an important facet in their lives.”
Linger, who grew up on a farm in Buckhannon, hopes to return to the area to practice medicine.
“Living and working with people in a rural area is a natural, normal way of life for me. The experience I have interacting with people from this same background will undoubtedly be beneficial to me as I provide them with medical care because effective communication is such a key aspect of providing quality, effective care to patients,” he said. “Practicing in a rural area gives the benefit of getting to know your patients better, which leads to better quality of care in almost every circumstance.”
Norman Ferrari, M.D., vice dean for education and academic affairs and chair of the Department of Medical Education, said the decision of these students to practice medicine in rural West Virginia goes hand-in-hand with the School of Medicine’s mission.
“We strive to improve the lives of the people of West Virginia and beyond through excellence in patient care, education, research and service to our communities,” he said. “By sending our best and brightest out into the West Virginia communities that need them the most, we are doing just that.”
Photo identifications: Front row, left to right: Nathaniel Linger, Virginia Horne and William Johansen. Second row, left to right: Garrett Butler, Jason McNair and Sky Gwinn. Back row, left to right: April Vestal, WVU ICRH associate director, Dr. Larry Rhodes, WVU ICRH director, and Dr. Norman Ferrari, vice dean for medical education and chair of the WVU Department of Medical Education.
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