TERRE HAUTE — The 18 prospective medical students came from such smaller Indiana communities as St. Paul, Bluffton and North Vernon.
They interviewed for 12 openings in the Indiana University School of Medicine rural track program located in Terre Haute. Those chosen — the Class of 2016 — will begin medical school in the fall, and all four years will be in Terre Haute.
Those accepted will be part of the fifth class admitted to the rural medicine program, which began in 2008. The program had its highest number of applicants this year, 31, and the highest number brought to Terre Haute for interviews, said Dr. Taihung Duong, associate dean and director of the IU School of Medicine in Terre Haute.
“It’s very competitive and also becoming more well known,” Duong said. The four-year rural track program has four classes and a total of 40 students.
The interviews took place at Landsbaum Center for Health Education.
Among those participating in the annual interview day was Danny Capes, 22, a biochemistry major from DePauw who just graduated. Originally from North Vernon in southern Indiana, he’d like to go back there some day and establish a rural medical practice.
He wants to return to his hometown because “it’s who I am. I get all of my small town USA values from it, and one of those is giving back to a community,” Capes said. He wants to take something positive back home.
Jonathan Aeschliman, a Bluffton native, has completed a master’s degree in biology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “I’m kind of a small town person. I feel that’s the most appropriate area for me to study,” he said. He believes physicians in small towns have a greater connection to the community, and that’s something he wants.
While the interviews Wednesday were competitive, “We want to see each other succeed,” Aeschliman said.
Another prospective medical student, Nadia Nubani, is an Arab-American born and raised in Chicago who also spent 10 years living in Palestine, where her parents now live. She is Palestinian.
“I want to do primary care, and I want to be trained as best I can to do medicine in rural environments for people who have unique situations and medical needs,” said the 23-year-old, who received her bachelor’s in biology and chemistry at Manchester College. She now considers Fort Wayne home.
She attributes her interest in rural care to her 10 years in Palestine, where she witnessed many obstacles in delivering medical attention to people who really needed it.
While her goal is to practice medicine in Indiana, she also would like to provide medical services to help people outside of the United States, including — potentially — Palestine.
“When you do leave the United States, it’s rural medicine that’s most needed,” Nubani said.
The prospective medical students had an opportunity to meet with those in the first-year of the rural medicine program.
First-year students Angela Hatfield, Erin Cole, Matt Lash and Ryan Hancock agreed the program is a challenging one, and 12-to 15-hour days — or longer — aren’t unusual.
The first semester is “a huge adjustment and a very big life change,” Cole said. “You have to settle in and realize OK, I’m in medical school. I study all the time and this is my life. You have to accept it and keep reminding yourself of why you are doing it.”
But it’s also important to maintain a balance and make time for yourself, Lash said.
Hancock, who is from the small community of Brook, said he chose the medical field because “physicians in small towns are very well respected and have great relationships with their patients. That’s something I admire.”
The first year has been “definitely challenging,” he said.
His advice to those who are accepted into the program is to “work hard and try to remember why you’re doing it.”
Once a week, the first-year students shadow doctors in rural communities. “It gives us encouragement to go hit the books a little bit longer,” Hancock said.
Duong credited the Terre Haute medical community for its support of the rural track program.
“To be able to build a medical education program for four years here, we’ve had to ask our local physicians and hospitals to put in a lot of time, resources and energy to help us teach our students,” Duong said. “They do this of their own goodwill; we don’t have the funding to pay them for the time they spend with the students.”
The program is helping meet the needs of rural Indiana, he said.
About one-third of Indiana’s population, or about 2 million people, live in rural areas, yet less than 10 percent of practicing physicians are in rural Indiana, he said.