February 24, 2020

USD Med School Prioritizes Rural Health through FARM Program

Across rural communities in the United States and in the state of South Dakota, citizens do not always have access to convenient health care. Nationally, 20 percent of the population resides in rural areas, and only nine percent of physicians do. South Dakota proactively faced this challenge by expanding slots at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and creating the Frontier and Rural Medicine (FARM) program. 

The FARM program allows Pillar 2 medical students to experience the rewards and demands of a rural medical practice, and it encourages them to practice in small towns and rural areas, especially in South Dakota.

Kaitlyn Dorn, a third-year medical student, is in the FARM program, serving at Monument Health in Spearfish, South Dakota.

As she is the only medical student in Spearfish, Dorn has had many hands-on experiences in a variety of disciplines.

“The doctors let me be first assistant in surgeries, and I get to do deliveries. I get to do all sorts of procedures,” Dorn said. “I have gotten to know my attendees so well because I’m here all the time and I’m the only medical student.”

FARM slots are competitive, and application to the program begins during a student’s first year of medical school. Since its conception in 2014, 34 students have completed the FARM program. 

The FARM program is managed by the medical school’s Department of Family Medicine, and selection of FARM clinics and hospitals in communities around the state was based on a community/site’s ability to provide meaningful clinical experiences in each of the major disciplines of family medicine, including internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, OB/GYN, psychiatry and surgery. A family physician or an internal medicine physician serves as the physician coordinator at each site. There are seven participating sites in today’s FARM program.

FARM is also succeeding in providing a rural health care provider workforce with an emphasis on primary care. Ten of the 25 FARM students who have graduated from the medical school have matched in a family medicine residency. Five others have matched in different primary care specialties, and one matched in an internal medicine residency. That means over 60 percent of FARM students who have graduated are entering primary care and are pursuing the type of medical practice that is highly applicable to rural health care needs.

Dorn said she grew up in a small town and knew that she wanted to practice medicine in a rural setting. Applying to the FARM program made perfect sense to her.

"It was the best decision I’ve made in med school."