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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Program brings doctors to rural areas

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cully Bryant, who practices family medicine at Ferguson Medical Group, discusses a patient's case with medical students Leah Smith and Joliette Barnum.
SIKESTON -- This summer, first-year medical student Joliette Barnum and third-year student Leah Smith are practicing what they want to do after they graduate: rural medicine.

Barnum, who grew up in Sikeston, and Smith, of Thayer, are working at Ferguson Medical Group as part of the University of Missouri Rural Training Program, which encourages medical students to practice in rural medicine, said Cully Bryant, who practices family medicine at Ferguson.

Bryant, who also serves at the director of medical education for the southeast region of the MU Rural Medicine Program, described the program as "part of an ongoing effort to try to bring doctors to rural Missouri."

So far, Ferguson hasn't acquired any doctors from the program, "but a couple look very promising," he said.

The program is good for students who want to go into rural medicine to see what they're getting into. "It's always been my intentions to go back to a smaller setting," Smith said. "It's very personable and I do like this setting."

The students will see the patient first, and record their medical history and perform a physical exam and try to diagnose them. They then share the diagnosis with the doctor she's working with.

"Usually I'm pretty much right," she said. "If it's more complicated or some term I know nothing about, I'll tell Dr. Bryant I have no idea."

Smith agreed that sometimes it can be tough diagnosing less common problems. "If you've never seen it, you have no idea," she said.

For the most part, patients have been welcoming to the doctors-in-training. "Ninety-five percent don't mind," Barnum said. "But a few people do, and that's fine."

In the two weeks she's been at Ferguson, Barnum has worked with Bryant and seen "a lot of sinus infections and back pain." Next week, she'll begin working with Jennifer Nickell, an OB/GYN at the O'Bannon Family Care Center.

Smith started this week and will work in the pediatric department with Kevin Blanton until August. Then, she will work with Nickell for another eight-week period. Since she is further along in her training, she is on call when Blanton is, and will get to help with deliveries.

Participating in the rural program gives the students more opportunities for one-on-one interaction. At the University Hospital at Mizzou, students are often competing with students further along in their program or residents for hands-on training.

Smith decided to come to Sikeston for several reasons, including the location, just two hours from her hometown. "I also heard great things about this area and the doctors here," she said.

Bryant said he learns "a whole lot" from the students. "They are a window for us to look back to the university," he said. "They bring with them the more cutting-edge ideas that being isolated here away from the university are more difficult for us to get to."

Students learn the satisfaction of being a rural doctor, and how small-town doctors are important in the community -- they must adapt and serve multiple roles, such as an educator and belonging to civic organizations.

That's part of the reason Bryant came to work in Sikeston, where his family and in-laws live. "I liked the variety that I knew rural practice was going to provide."