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Tufts students have arrived at SMH
NORWAY — Four new medical students have arrived at Stephens Memorial Hospital (SMH), the second class the hospital has hosted as part of a program designed by Tufts University Medical School and Maine Medical Center.
SMH hosted its first class of Tufts students last year, becoming a teaching institution for the first time in its history.
The four students, Gwen Downs, Jennifer Zuar, Thatcher Newkirk and Rebecca Wood will spend nine months in the area, gaining invaluable experience in a busy rural hospital and learning from SMH doctors and staff.
The students say that even though the program at SMH is only in its second year, it already has an excellent reputation.
"We had heard and seen the program was really strong here," says Wood. "The hospital seemed to really support everything the students were doing, so that was a main push for me – working one-on-one with doctors that really were invested in the program."
The students are part of the Maine Track program, an initiative that helps pay for the education costs of Tufts medical students who are from Maine or have close ties to the state and want to practice medicine in a rural setting.
Maine Track students spend their third year gaining hands-on experience at rural hospitals.
Zuar, the only out-of-state resident of the group, says that she has been really impressed with SMH staff's commitment to teaching.
"I was just attracted [to] how passionate the doctors are," says Zuar. "For them to trust us that much and teach us that much is just a gift, and one that I don't think any of us take lightly."
The long-term goal of the program is to address the chronic lack of medical professionals in Maine's rural communities.
All four students say that they would like to practice medicine in a small-town setting, both because they feel more comfortable in small communities and because of the rural need for medical professionals.
"That's what inspires me," says Newkirk. "To try to find the place where help is most needed and put your efforts there."
Working at SMH has given the students an opportunity to gain useful hands-on experience and a greater connection with their teachers that they may not have been able to have in a larger hospital.
As the only students at SMH, they are getting far more one-on-one with the doctors they are working with than some of their colleagues at larger hospitals.
SMH also gives the students more responsibility. Students are assigned patients who they care for through every stage of their care.
Downs says that, although the care the students administer is always overseen by SMH staff, the experience gives the students a sense of responsibility for their patients.
"It gives us the opportunity to follow patients throughout the entire duration of their care," says Downs. "Instead of just seeing them once, maybe twice, in the course of a month and then never seeing them again."
The way the Maine Track program is organized also gives the students greater exposure to the day-to-day work in a busy hospital.
Rather than using a traditional block schedule where students spend weeks or months on one particular area of care – like surgery or internal medicine – then move on to the next area for another long period, the Tufts program uses a Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship (LIC) model.
In the LIC model, students work in different specialized medical fields on a daily basis, giving them a more hands-on, integrated education.
"One morning I might be an OB/GYN and then that afternoon I'm with a [pediatrics] doctor and the next day I'm in surgery," says Downs, who feels like the SMH program is more comprehensive than traditional programs.
"I feel like I'm going to learn it better because I'm not just cramming it all in and then done with it and never seeing it again. We're going to be doing it again and again and again."
Downs says that with the SMH program, she sees between four and 20 patients in a day.
The students have been at SMH for about a month, and they agree that so far the experience has been hectic, but also rewarding.
Downs says that on her first day, she was pulled out of orientation to assist with a c-section. Wood says that she delivered a baby in the first couple weeks at SMH and because of the flexibility of the program, she was able to follow up with the family after the birth.
Zuar says her involvement in a conversation between a doctor and a family about withdrawing care from a family member and moving into comfort-care measures only, was hugely rewarding.
"That was an incredibly difficult conversation to witness and be a part of," she says.
"Those kinds of decisions are made every day and no one takes them lightly at all. Just to see what goes into that from both sides was a very eye-opening experience."