Seventeen students working toward a medical degree are in Roswell this month getting a feel for practice in a rural area.
The students — three from the University of New Mexico combined bachelor’s and doctor of medicine degree program and 14 from the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces — shadow doctors at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center and Lovelace Regional Hospital.
But during their time here, they will also volunteer at a variety of community events, exposing them to the organizations and people of the community.
A reception for the students was held Monday evening at the Roswell Museum.
The three UNM students — Haley Hughes, Albuquerque; Tiffany Ynostroza, Silver City; and Madison Sandoval, Tijeras — are here as part of a month-long practicum completed after the sophomore year.
Cristina Arnold, a city councilor and self-employed business owner, has organized activities for the UNM students in Roswell for about three years.
“I organized a different volunteer activity every week,” she said.
The students have worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Chaves County and Camp Invention. This week they are helping the Roswell Museum set up the Future Shock exhibit that opens Friday, and in their final week will volunteer at Harvest Ministries.
They even did a ride-along with the Roswell Police Department and toured the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
The students will present what they have learned about the community at the end of their stay in Roswell, Arnold said.
“The whole idea is to get them to actually see the beauty of our community,” Arnold said.
Hughes said her assignment to Roswell was random, but she’s enjoying her stay here.
“There’s some really great people here, a great sense of community. I like that,” she said.
She said she has not yet decided if she will pursue a career in general practice medicine or a specialty, but she is interested in practicing in a rural area.
Students from rural areas who are part of a minority, train in primary care or who train in rural areas are more likely to work in rural and other underserved areas, Valerie Romero-Leggot, executive director of the UNM BA/MD program, said.
“It is about growing our own and investing in our communities and the students that we know will return to their communities, to serve their communities,” Romero-Leggot said.
“I’ll tell you, it’s definitely the favorite part of their curriculum over the four years of undergraduate, because it really motivates them,” she said.
Romero-Leggot said the BA/MD program started in 2006, and about 69% of alumni who have now completed their residencies and fellowships have returned to New Mexico. Two-thirds of them are from rural communities, and 79% are in primary care.
The Burrell students are third- and fourth-year students at the private college affiliated with New Mexico State University. A new aspect to their program is a distinction in rural medicine tracksaid Emily Cometti, regional academic coordinator.
“Some of these students are working to get that on their transcripts when they graduate, and part of that is to do several community service projects while they’re here,” she said.
“We’re really excited to be able to get them plugged in and connected to our community,” she said.
Cometti said the school graduated its first class in 2018 and since then 30 alumni have stayed in New Mexico, Arizona or Texas for their residency programs.
The Burrell students who are in Roswell are from across the country — California, Michigan, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
Augustine Nguyen, Baltimore, Maryland, said he chose Burrell because he believed a smaller school would give him more opportunity to stand out as well as new experiences. He said rural medicine is something he would consider.
“Just hearing the difficulties of some people getting good health care services around here is disheartening for sure. I understand the part of living in the community and serving it. You must understand a community to help it out,” he said.
Kaylee Knaggs said she grew up in a small community in West Virginia and was looking for that kind experience when choosing a medical school.
“I know Las Cruces isn’t quite as small, but the state as a whole has that feel,” she said.
“I love the communities. Everybody’s so friendly. I love having those relationships so I wanted to keep that,” she said.
Kassandra Rascon is from Blythe, California, a town of about 20,000 on the California-Arizona border, so she said her perspective of Roswell is a bit different.
“It’s bigger than the town I grew up in, so it has everything I could possibly need,” she said.
She said Roswell was actually her first choice to come to and she appreciates the greater attention she can get here working with the doctors, or preceptors, they shadow.
“We’re often one-on-one with our preceptors, so we get a lot of hands-on experience here that you don’t really get in a bigger city. Here you’re going to be the first assist on the surgery, whereas in a big city, a third- or fourth-year resident is going to be first assist,” she said.
“It’s a great place if you’re a hands-on learner, which I am,” she said.
Erika Anaya is from Anthony, near Las Cruces, and is a Yates Scholar at Burrell. A requirement of her scholarship is that she will complete a clinical rotation in southeast New Mexico and return to practice medicine in the state after completing her residency.
“I love New Mexico, I’m familiar with the diversity here, I’m a bilingual speaker. I feel like New Mexico is the best, so I did want to be here,” she said.