ROME Program offers many opportunities

The Rural Opportunities in Medical Education (ROME) is a program through the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences (UND SMHS) that third-year medical students can enter to gain experience in a rural primary care setting.

By COLE BENZ | For The Record |

The Rural Opportunities in Medical Education (ROME) is a program through the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences (UND SMHS) that third-year medical students can enter to gain experience in a rural primary care setting.

Natalie Krier and Joshua Huhndorf are two of the latest students to enter the program and continue their education with West River Health Services.

Krier, whose parents are James and Nancy Krier, graduated from Burke High School in Burke, S.D. in 2007. She continued her education at South Dakota State University and graduated in 2011.

Huhndorf graduated in 2004 from Nikiski High School in Nikiski, Alaska. He attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., and graduated in 2009.

The ROME program has been around since 1998 and was started through the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Dr. Roger Schauer, a Hettinger native, was instrumental in establishing the ROME program. By organizing the program, Dr. Schauer afforded students the opportunity to train in a rural area, and perhaps encouraged students to practice in smaller communities.

According to Dr. Kamille Sherman, co-director for ROME and Family Medicine Clerkships, retention is something that’s happened through the program. Sherman added that there have been a number of students who returned to the rural areas because they have gone through the ROME program, even if it isn’t in the area of primary care they initially experienced.

Along with Hettinger, health care facilities in Dickinson, Jamestown, and Devils Lake have ROME participants each year. Williston was previously an option for students but was not accepting students in 2014.

In order to welcome students, the facilities must have two family physicians and a general surgeon for teaching among a few other select specialties.

When the students arrive at the location, they go through a ‘rotation’ type learning curriculum with each department.

“Students are able to complete required training elements in family medicine, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics and OB-GYN,” Sherman said.

So how are these students selected?

“Students self-select to participate in this rural option,” Sherman said.

Standard completion requirements are necessary for credit, just as if the student was at a larger campus.

“While in the rural communities, students are expected to be learning the same material and take the same exams as their counterparts on larger campuses across the state,” Sherman said.

Typically, each community hosts the students once a year and the medical school sends them out in pairs. However, Hettinger took on a larger role this year as they accepted more students since the Williston option was removed.

“Hettinger showed exceptional dedication to teaching this year after the Williston site was unable to accept students as anticipated,” Sherman said.

Co-directors of the program at the Hettinger location are Dr. Joshua Ranum and Dr. Catherine Houle, though a significant number of staff members play a role in the students’ training.

“While two physicians are named co-directors, the majority of doctors teach the students in Hettinger at different times while in the community,” Sherman said.

A benefit of the ROME program for students includes the amount of hands-on attention they receive from the medical staffs at the locations. Since they are not operating on a large campus with a team of students, they are afforded a larger amount of attention by the doctors and employees of each medical facility. That’s something Sherman said is an attractive aspect of the program.

“Students know that when they learn in the smaller communities, they are learning one-on-one from a teaching physician, rather than being a part of a larger team where they may not participate as deeply,” Sherman said.

Sherman added that students can see a deeper patient-doctor relationship in smaller communities. It is a much more attached relationship that spans a longer time. She also said that can have something to do with many of the ROME students returning to rural areas.

“Students who choose the ROME Program are looking for more hands on learning; in a community that provides care for patients over several months, they’re able to really appreciate and learn the physician-patient relationship that develops over time,” Sherman said. “I think it’s certainly fair to credit the ROME Program for showing medical students how rewarding a practice in a rural community can be.”