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Medical students from CU, CSU get a taste of rural life

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During the week of June 4-8, 17 students from the University of Colorado and Colorado State University toured Delta County as part of the University of Colorado's Interdisciplinary Rural Immersion Program.

Since 2005 the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in conjunction with the Rural Track program and Colorado Area Health Education Center, has been providing this experience to students who are interested in becoming medical professionals in rural areas. The program allows students the opportunity to learn about and investigate all aspects of small town personal, professional and community life.

On Monday, June 4, students met at the Delta County Memorial Hospital to attend an orientation and meet a few of the leaders in the community.

Stacey Voigt, executive director of Delta County Economic Development, introduced community leaders to explain how Delta County is unique.

Tom Huerkamp explained how governmental bodies in Delta County and other related entities work collaboratively.

Larry Traubel shared with the students the area's rich agricultural history and the produce that is famous and unique to our area including Olathe Sweet® Sweet Corn and Palisade peaches.

Caryn Gibson and Kurt Clay spoke about the public education in the area and how many of the high school students are excelling in Advanced Placement classes and college courses.

After the speakers, students had a 25-minute break to talk with the community leaders, relax or get to know fellow students.

Health care professionals, including hospital CEO Jason Cleckler, described the different components of health care in Delta County and how they work together.

Undersheriff Mark Taylor explained how law enforcement is organized in the area, including how law enforcement interacts with health care.

And finally, Kelly Hepler, Delta County Tourism, and Tom Huerkamp described the people and culture of Delta County.

Following the introduction, students split into four groups to plan community interviews and then had a scavenger hunt that led them to different businesses and eventually ended in Cedaredge at the Staywise Inn. They finished their evening with dinner at Creekside Cafe in Cedaredge.

On Tuesday, they toured Ela Farm in Hotchkiss, then the fish hatchery or Solar International in Paonia.

After lunch at Big B's, they spent the rest of the day exploring the community until meeting back in Delta to have dinner at Daveto's.

On Wednesday, they toured Delta County Memorial Hospital. The focus was on family practice care in a rural community, ER, Urgent Care and trauma programs, ambulance services, behavioral health and clinics.

Gwen Conrad, medical staff coordinator, told students that in a rural there is more opportunity to grow.

Conrad said, "We all move around and over time, eventually you move up." While this is a positive, Gwen continued by saying, "The challenge is that when med students graduate they have looming debt and they don't want to move to a rural area because the pay isn't as high as a larger area."

Walking from one ward in the hospital to another the group learned that Delta County Memorial Hospital delivers roughly 200 babies a year, that Delta has very high-end equipment for a rural area, and that being part of a medical staff in a rural area means that they have need a wide area of knowledge because they will not specialize in one area.

Students were told that doctors who practice in rural areas gain more experience in more fields and tend to be better doctors because of all of the practice they have.

Delta County Memorial Hospital has two pharmacies that are licensed separately because they are in two different building. Phil Neary and Cari Dillon, both clinical pharmacists, estimate that there are 2,000 different kinds of medications used annually throughout the hospital.In response to the opioid crisis, Neary said Delta County Memorial Hospital has created an opioid task force committee and that alternatives to opioids being tried.

As impressive as this is for a rural hospital there are some issues associated with being in the pharmacy field in rural areas.

"Puerto Rico's natural disasters, and other areas that make medications and have suffered natural disasters, cause shortages. Rural areas see the effects of this first," Neary said.

Before they left, Dillon encouraged the students by saying, "If you want to create and change things you can in a rural area. You have a bigger role in a small area. You know the people you work with so you can make a change. Everybody knows everybody, so you have a say in things and you have an influence."

Walking outside the students were taken to the ambulances and air transport.

Loree Cutts, flight nurse for St. Mary's Medical Center, Grand Junction, said, ""We are the answers to Murphy's Law."

They are able to reach people who need help and have the training to aid them while in the air. They can carry two patients and have a nurse on board.

Cutts urged the students to sit in the helicopter to get a feel of what it would be like to care of a patient in such tight quarters.

The students from CU and CSU asked some more questions then found their way inside to grab lunch to take with them as they continued to a community exploration. Then, as the day came to a close, they gathered for a community barbecue at Orchard City Town Park.

Thursday, the group was left to explore and learn as much as they wanted to throughout the community.

The final day, Friday, students gave a presentation on what they learned and what impacted them during their trip.

Christine Krentz, an incoming medical student, Hailee Griffin, second year pharmacy student, Lindsey Foster, a second year physician assistant student, Sean Wickers, a second year medical student, Elle Holbrook, and a third year veterinary student, were all part of a group that presented on environment, agriculture, wildlife, natural resources and tourism in Delta County.

Lindsey said that something she and her group found interesting was that the temperature varies throughout Delta County, due to elevation changes.

Sean Wickers talked about the water in Delta. "Water is a hot topic because Delta County has no aquifer, it's all surface water. Much of that water comes from snowpack which can be variable season to season. For example, this is a doubt season right now."

Talking about wildlife and tourism Elle said, "One thing we thought was really cool was when we went to go visit the Black Canyon National Park. They actually have a flower that is unique and endemic to that canyon, called the Black Canyon Gilia. I hadn't heard of having an endemic flower before, so I thought that was pretty cool."

Community leaders were present and were allowed time to give closing remarks.

Photo by Kaylee Dunham Lorre Cutts and Ryan Grube explain the difficulties they face when working while in flight. To avoid the pilot’s night vision, nurses have to use green lights after dark. This can make it difficult for them to tell if the patient is green because they are still sick or if the light is making their skin look green. Cutts said that being a flight nurse means that they must learn how to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Photo by Kaylee Dunham Students on the Rural Track Program at University of Colorado and students from Colorado State University visited Delta for a week. Dr. Mark Deutchman, director of the CU Rural Track Program, and Melanie Deherrera, Rural Track project manager, put the event together so students could see firsthand the benefits and struggles with being a medical professional in rural Colorado. At orientation on Monday, June 4, the students were welcomed by community leaders.
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