Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine students, along with the Associate Dean of Admissions Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., traveled more than six hours west to Virginia’s underserved Appalachian Mountains in summer 2010. This was the 10th year she has volunteered with the Remote Area Medical, or RAM, Expedition.
VCU School of Medicine students, David Jessee and Jamie King.
Held annually at the Wise County fairgrounds in southwest Virginia, thousands of people gather, needing what most would call basic or routine care.
The RAM clinic provides free medical, dental and eye care for community members as well as those who travel across state lines for the opportunity. Each year VCU medical students encounter hundreds of patients whose lack of insurance causes them to delay evaluation and even treatment for medical issues.
“It is tremendously rewarding to personally help those who do not have the financial means to help themselves,” said Whitehurst-Cook, who is an alumna of the medical school’s class of 1979. “The patients’ ‘thank yous’ are worth millions.”
In the summer of 2010, two students felt a particularly close connection to the volunteer event. The students, David Jessee and Jamie King, call southwest Virginia home.
“I knew even before I was accepted to VCU that I wanted to participate in RAM,” said Jessee, a second-year student from Richlands. “I chose to participate because this is a rare opportunity to represent the School of Medicine while at the same time enhancing my clinical education and helping the less fortunate in my native community.”
Whitehurst-Cook agrees that participating in events like RAM is important to the students’ training. “There are many areas throughout the state of Virginia that are considered underserved, where access to doctors and nurses is very limited,” she said. “Understanding the diverse needs of patients is so important to being able to help them live healthier lives.”
This experience has shown these medical students how badly care is needed in the western areas of the state and how they can personally help in the future.
“I want to return and work somewhere in Appalachia,” said King, a third-year student from Pulaski. “I am interested in some form of primary care, family medicine, internal medicine or psychiatry.”
Jessee, too, plans on returning to southwest Virginia to practice medicine after residency. “My region has such a high demand for medical professionals and I see myself working to help those who need it the most.”
Students take away numerous real world experiences and emotions after participating in the three-day event. Jessee and King left knowing their services weren’t going unnoticed.
“I saw a lot of patients during RAM in a variety of capacities, and no matter what I was doing or who I assisted, seeing the gratitude on the faces of those we served had the most impact on my overall experience,” said Jessee.
The VCU School of Medicine also provides other opportunities for students who are interested in working in underserved areas. The International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program is designed to increase the number of primary care physicians working in both rural and urban areas and open to students who have an interest in practicing medicine in communities where physicians are in short supply.
Learn more about the free health clinic at the Kingsport, Tenn., TimesNews.net’s article and slideshow.