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In late July 2018, first and second-year Physician Assistant Studies students, and two faculty mentors, provided health care in rural Wise, Virginia, through the Remote Area Medical (RAM) program, a nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics. The RAM program delivers free dental, vision, and medical care to underserved and uninsured populations.

Second-year Physician Assistant Studies student Kendra Potter and Meg Beal, PA-C and PA program assistant professor, with Stan Brock. Brock is the founder of Remote Area Medical (RAM).
Second-year Physician Assistant Studies student Kendra Potter and Meg Beal, PA-C and PA program assistant professor, with Stan Brock. Brock is the founder of Remote Area Medical (RAM).

Sixteen PA students joined other health care practitioners and community partners to see patients and get hands-on experience across the health care spectrum, including working alongside orthopedists, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, cardiologists, and dentists, in pop-up medical tents.

Second-year PA student Kendra Potter said the RAM experience gave her an opportunity to see what the future could hold for her as she pursues rural health care. “I understand firsthand how underserved a rural area can be in terms of health care and medical providers. Rural areas deserve medical providers committed not only to practicing medicine but also to the community,” Potter said.

Before pursuing PA school, Potter lived and worked in a rural area near Wise. As the former head athletic trainer at the University of Virginia at Wise, Potter knows what it’s like to seek health care in a rural area. “My family and the athletes I worked with [had] to travel at least one hour to see specialists,” she said. “I hope to be a part of advancing medical practices in these areas.”

Over two-and-a-half days, PA students and other providers saw more than 1,000 patients and provided services worth more than $400,000. Students stayed in dormitories on the campus of the UVa-Wise, went to group dinners, and got to meet Virginia Governor Ralph Northam during a surprise visit.

Janelle Bludorn, PA-C, and PA program clinical assistant professor, said the experience allowed first-year PA students, who are finishing a year of didactic instruction to get hands-on experience before beginning clinical rotations. Importantly, it also allowed first-year students to gain perspective as they worked alongside second-year students, who will graduate in December 2018.

“I think it was great from an educational and collegiality standpoint to have our two cohorts together,” Bludorn said. “We want to have more of these win-win opportunities where our students have an invaluable learning experience, but they’re also providing great services to patients,” she said.

Several students had to quickly learn how to work in an environment with scarce resources in order to provide the best in patient care.

“You had to rely on your history, your physical examination. Sometimes it’s the basic thing of sitting down with a patient and listening,” Bludorn said. “I’m so proud to teach these students.”

Potter said she has a greater understanding of how medical providers should strive to provide patient-centered, evidence-based care to patients regardless of their backgrounds. “Patient care starts with rapport, which begins with communication. This also allows opportunity for patient education which also is valuable in the patient’s plan of care,” she said.

Meg Beal, PA-C and PA program assistant professor, credited the rich interprofessional collaboration of clinical preceptors, most of whom work for the UNC Health Care system, with their students’ success during the RAM experience. “They’ve worked with so many great preceptors. Their clinical experience is phenomenal, and it set up our students for a successful experience,” Beal said.

The RAM model, established by Stan Brock in 1985, leans on a community partnership model to best identify host sites, resources, and health care partnerships for future care. The PA program hopes to be a part of the team to bring a RAM experience to North Carolina, specifically in rural areas with a dearth of health care options. To establish a RAM program in North Carolina, the PA program would need to identify a community partner, such as a school or church, to serve as a host site, in addition to health care providers who can provide a continuum of care for patients. The site, financial partners, and medical resources in the area all ensure the success of a RAM event.

Bludorn and Beal said bringing a RAM experience to North Carolina would align well with the PA program’s mission, which is rooted in rural health care—an aspect of the PA program that led Potter to apply for admission.

“I walked away from RAM with the excitement of being committed to a rural area that will appreciate and value a committed PA to the health care of their community. As a member of the health care system, we cannot forget that medicine is more than diagnoses and prognoses but the opportunity to guide patients toward healthy futures,” Potter said.

The PA program is housed in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Allied Health Sciences.