Original Article

Teaching Medical Students in the Rural Setting Long Term: Physicians’ Attitudes and Perceptions

Authors: John Wheat, MD, MPH, John Brandon, MD, Melissa Cox, PhD, Scott Thomas, MD, Susan Guin, MSN, James Leeper, PhD


Objectives: The University of Alabama School of Medicine Tuscaloosa Regional Campus conducted a 2-month block in rural family practice, but committed to expanding to an 8-month longitudinal rural curriculum. We wanted to explore how rural physicians feel about teaching students in a prolonged rural preceptorship.

Methods: We brainstormed with colleagues, reviewed the literature, and conducted two focus groups supplemented by five interviews with rural physicians. The focus groups explored satisfaction and dissatisfaction in teaching, medical school and community support, evaluation of preceptors, and the sharing of information between students and preceptors. The analysis sought common themes among study participants and colleagues.

Results: Twenty-one study participants included 19 family physicians, 15 in private practice. Eleven had taught medical students. Our key finding, combining four themes, was that a satisfactory context within which to teach medical students long term in rural sites depends on the optimization of the roles of preceptors, students, communities, and educational institutions. There were comments addressing each of these roles. This finding cannot be generalized beyond the study group because of the qualitative methodology using a convenience sample.

Conclusions: These physicians’ concerns foment hypotheses about engaging rural physicians in their own unique local networks involving preceptors, students, community, and educational institutions to conduct satisfactory long-term medical education in rural sites. We recommend investigations to substantiate a prevalence among rural physicians of concern about the four roles and to describe various contexts in which these roles produce satisfactory long-term preceptorships, perhaps as best practices in different settings.

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