By Luke Frank

UNM Medical Students in a Community Near You

Unique Clinical Experience Prepares Students for Patients

New Mexico's health care workforce just swelled by 104 for the next six weeks, as University of New Mexico medical students get a taste of clinical practice - some for the very first time - in 37 communities throughout the state.

The UNM School of Medicine's Practical Immersion Experience (PIE) - part of the school's internationally recognized curriculum - places first-year medical students in outlying primary care and other medical practices for six-week rotations through the end of July.

"The Practical Immersion Experience is a unique component of medical education at UNM, and our students' first chance to focus on actually caring for patients early in their medical school education," says PIE Director Anthony Fleg, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine. "Through PIE, our communities become part of the classroom, and we are excited to have students get out and explore the various health programs in their PIE communities."

Fleg says that in addition to providing valuable clinical experiences, the program addresses New Mexico's physician shortage, because it can influence where students choose to practice once they're out of school.

"I can't wait to see actual patients," says first-year student Emily Pearce, who will gain clinical experience at a health center in Pinehill, N.M. It won't be Pearce's first time interacting with patients - she's seen plenty of action as a paramedic for the past six years. But her perspective is completely different now as an aspiring clinician who will treat patients for everything from general wellness to chronic disease.

"I've been brushing up on my clinical guidelines and treatment for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol - health issues more common in New Mexico and the Pinehill area," Pearce says. "At the same time, I've tried to minimize my expectations. I want to go into this experience open-minded."

Fellow medical student Andrew Goumas feels the same. "I'm going in as a sponge - as open as I can be," he says. "I know I'll be surprised at some of the things I experience, and there will be huge growth moments for me."

Goumas is looking for both the community experience and daily grind of being a clinician, as he works with patients in a Santa Fe family medicine clinic.

"This is a chance for me to experience the daily ins and outs of clinical life," he adds. "I need to know what that feels like as I progress through my education. I also think this will be a great chance to observe how community health and other organizations mix with New Mexico's unique cultures to promote wellness."

Students in this year's PIE program will be in family practice and women's health clinics, hospital emergency departments, cancer and neuroscience centers, and other health care facilities, from Shiprock to Chaparral, Cuba to Clovis. Their training includes conducting physical examinations while learning the important subtleties of clinical practice with guidance and supervision from established physician preceptors.

The PIE program also requires medical students to develop and carry out a community project designed to address health care needs specific to that community. Previous projects have included creating a Health Resource Guide, developing an HPV vaccine campaign, implementing a walking trail program and hosting a Project Heart Start event.

"This first year of medical school has been incredibly challenging and rewarding," Goumas says. "It's also been the hardest thing I've ever done. But, I'm ready for PIE. It's one of the most important components in my medical education and a great chance to see where I might fit professionally."

Categories: Community Engagement, Education, School of Medicine, Top Stories