So- your classes are over or close to being over and it’s time to finally get out into the medical field. Thousands of 4th year medical students just like you around the United States have opened their envelopes and learned where they will be spending the next few years of their lives. How exciting! If you have been placed in a rural healthcare clinic, your experience will no doubt be very different from classmates in large hospital or big-city practices. Rural healthcare is very different from anywhere else, especially if you’re in a small clinic. Here’s what to expect:
#1 You will be learning first-hand. The first day you set foot in the clinic as an intern is a day you will always remember. This is the day you finally put on a long white coat and see your patients, not as a student but as their physician. You may feel as though you don’t yet know what you are doing, but this is very normal. As you do your job as an intern, you will learn what you need to know to become a great doctor. Even in the initial first days, embrace your new role as an intern. Just starting out, you will have an enormous foundation of knowledge having recently completed medical school and your USMLE Step exams. Everything else, you’ll learn as you go.
#2 It’s going to take a long time to get everything done! You are likely learning a new computer system, clinic layout, and perhaps even area of the country. Your daily tasks are going to take you a lot longer right now then they will in a year. With that in mind, get to work early and give yourself extra time to collect your vitals, see and examine your patients, review their labs, diagnose illnesses, and plan their care. Allowing yourself extra time when you are just getting started will also decrease the likelihood of making mistakes.
#3 You will see cost-cutting measures in place. A rural health clinic doesn’t have an huge budget. You’ll see this right away. In fact, that might just be why you are there! While some larger clinics in populated areas may have an extensive medical staff and behind-the-scenes team members who deal with paperwork and insurance concerns, yours may not. In fact, it is not uncommon to see only one or two staff members deal with all of it, with the help of software programs for appointment scheduling or third-party companies who help with insurance. You will also see how helpful these cost-cutting measures are to keeping the rural population healthy, for a price they can afford.
That’s it! You got this! Keep your head up, drink enough coffee, and ask your seniors for help when you need it. You are going to be great!