Another Perspective: Lessons learned in Vegas

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Editor’s note: Baillie Kujath, Yalda Barlas and Myra Murillo, UNM BA/MD students, participated in a rural practicum this summer in Las Vegas. The students shadowed local rural physicians Dr. David Elliott, Dr. Thomas Strain and Dr. L. David Young and participated in weekly tutorial sessions at Luna Community College with UNM faculty member Sally Bachofer and community coordinator Elaine Luna. Baillie Kujath wrote this piece on behalf of the BA/MD students.

The BA/MD program at the University of New Mexico is a program designed to cater to the physician shortage in New Mexico by pulling from the population itself. The program takes a diverse body of students through a rigorous pre-medicine curriculum in order to prepare them for medical school. Though the curriculum is weighted heavily in the

physical sciences, it also allows students to engage with what it means to be a physician in New Mexico in particular. This means taking a look at what New Mexico lacks in health care and the ways in which it is changing to better attend to the underserved population.

About five months ago, our program told the three of us that we would be spending the month of June in Las Vegas, New Mexico for the BA/MD summer practicum, which all students in the program complete after their sophomore year.

Students spend a month shadowing in local clinics and carrying out a community engagement activity in a rural New Mexico community. No one in our group had ever even been to Las Vegas, besides maybe a pit stop during a road trip to Colorado, so we really had no idea what to expect.

Our first impression of Las Vegas was that everyone was incredibly kind. It seemed like we couldn’t get through a store without someone stopping us just to give a compliment. The community seems to thrive off of its familial temperament, making the transition to this new town very easy.

We each began shadowing in the rural clinics we were assigned. We had the privilege of each being able to shadow in clinics that served very different populations. Dr. David Young practices in the Pecos Valley Medical Clinic, which is federally funded and a very comprehensive facility that serves a 500 square mile radius around the Pecos valley.

Dr. Thomas Strain works in El Centro Family Health Center, which is a clinic focused on trying to provide care that is affordable, and Dr. David Elliot has his own private practice that also serves Las Vegas. After comparing our shadowing experiences, we have found that each of the clinics seem to serve very different populations and purposes. We have noticed that our experiences have been completely different and that treatment and care must be diverse depending on the specific people that the clinic is seeing. Access to resources is huge. In a clinic like the one in Pecos with an in-house pharmacy, it may be easier for someone without a car to have access to prescriptions than another who may be seen in another clinic with the same problem. Differences in access in a myriad of cases can be seen when comparing the clinics, yet all are serving the San Miguel county population.

For our community engagement activity, we decided to take a broader route. We decided that our theme would be general well being rather than just physical health. We partnered with the 21st Century Summer Learning Program through the West Las Vegas School District and worked with incoming sixth graders for two weeks. During week one, we focused mainly on their health with activities that revolved around anatomy, exercise, and nutrition, as well as a couple activities promoting healthy relationships. During week two, we focused on health and science related careers. As prospective doctors, we wanted to talk to the kids about some careers that we have found to be particularly interesting to us. As mentioned earlier, New Mexico has a physician shortage that will only get worse as more people are insured.

Inspiring future healthcare professionals is something we wanted to do because we all agreed that we were so grateful that someone encouraged us. We presented on different specialties as well as emphasized the importance of public health, scientists and other professionals that are all working together to improve the health status of the community.
While in town, we also had the opportunity to meet with various community leaders and research demographics, specifically housing, education, and neighborhood safety. After meeting with President Pete Campos at Luna Community College, we were inspired to think about our futures as physicians and the utilization of our resources.

Our main take away from the time spent in the community would have to be that everything is interconnected.

Healthcare cannot be addressed without looking at housing. Housing cannot be addressed without looking at economic development. Economic development cannot be addressed without looking at education and so on. In order to tackle big issues in the community, there has to be tremendous collaboration from those in all fields. All must be working together toward a common goal: a physically, socially, and economically healthy community.

We would like to give a special thank you to all who have helped us during our time in Las Vegas and allowed us to feel like we are part of the community: Elaine Luna, John Duran, David Luna, Pamela Marrujo, and of course Traveler’s Cafe for caffeinating us and introducing us to coffee cubes. Those are fantastic!

Baillie Kujath may be reached by email at bkujath@unm.edu