The Rural Student Physician Program (RSPP) was initiated in 1996 as an opportunity for medical students to receive a portion of their education in a rural setting. The goal of the experience is to allow an appreciation of the rewards and challenges that a practice in rural primary care medicine offers, and to encourage the consideration of this as a career path. Based largely on the University of Minnesota’s RPAP idea that began in 1971, the RSPP at the University of Illinois Peoria campus has been a training path for scores of satisfied students.
While in the RSPP, students experience a rural, community-based, extended clerkship that immerses them into a comprehensive educational experience in clinical medicine. It integrates the curriculum for Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, General Surgery, and Family Medicine within that site. While in RSPP, students learn in the workplace of their mentors: in the clinic, the Emergency Room, the hospital, nursing homes, and patient homes. They assist in surgery, learn to consult and work with their specialty colleagues in the community, and experience the unique healthcare opportunities offered by true “continuity of care”. In this, students observe the effectiveness of care for their patients and families as well as the interconnectedness of the healthcare team within a community.
One of the unique aspects of the RSPP is the mentor relationship that occurs between the student and their assigned preceptor. After the initial 20 week period of time in Peoria (rotating through all the required rotations except Family Medicine), the 28 week immersion process begins in the assigned community. Because they are frequently the only learner in that environment, the students become an integral part of the physician team and find themselves accepted as such by the preceptor’s patients, staff, and colleagues. The close apprenticeship-like supervision allows the student more opportunities for knowledge growth and skill acquisition than is found in most standard rotations. Our students’ feedback to the RSPP staff has highlighted the role this relationship plays in their subsequent interest and understanding of rural primary care.
The Rural Student Physician Program (RSPP) is designed to introduce medical students to the challenges and rewards of rural medicine and primary care by providing a strong rural educational curriculum.