Written by: Dr. Everett Zdrill
Joining a rural practice or maybe scheduling a locum? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first five years in rural medicine:
Embrace the Challenges
The challenges of rural medicine can include, but are not limited to, a lack of resources, a high patient load, limited access to specialists and allied health colleagues, and long distance to tertiary care. Yikes. Embracing the challenges will help you develop an ability to think outside the box and really grow your problem-solving skills.
A Little Bit of Clinical Courage Goes a Long Way
In rural areas, you are often ‘it.’ As such, you will find yourself managing patients and presentations that are usually under purview of a specialist. This can be a great learning opportunity, as it allows you to broaden your knowledge base and to gain confidence. After a period of time, you will realize there is no problem for which you can’t formulate an approach. This is a rewarding, empowering feeling, especially for a new graduate!
Immerse Yourself in Your Community
In a rural setting, you will get to know your patients within a health care setting, as well as outside of it. This presents the opportunity to build strong, multifaceted relationships with your patients. Take the time to get to know them, listen to their concerns, and soon your understanding of the term ‘patient-centred care’ will expand well beyond what you learned in medical school. Building strong relationships with your patients can help you provide better care, and it can also make your work more fulfilling.
Learn From Your Patients
See above! You will learn so much from your patients. You will be with them through some of the most important moments with their lives. In my experience, all you need to do is pay attention and your rural medicine experience will serve as a free (and thorough!) education in sociology, spirituality, and philosophy.
Learn From Your Colleagues
If there is any trait common to rural practitioners, it would be that each has an interesting biography, and each has unique life experiences. Take advantage of your opportunity to learn from these fascinating people! They can provide valuable insights and perspectives on medicine, and on life, that can help you grow as a physician and as a person.
Too Long Didn’t Read (TLDR)
Rural medicine can be tough, but the juice is worth the squeeze! Embrace the challenges, cultivate clinical courage, immerse yourself, and learn from those around you. You won’t believe the personal and professional growth that is possible.