UNM medical students
UNM medical students

Ninety first-year University of New Mexico medical students are wrapping up part of their summer in rural and underserved communities across New Mexico as part of a program that provides hands-on clinical training and could help address the state's physician shortage.

Through the UNM School of Medicine’s Practical Immersion Experience (PIE) – part of the medical school's internationally recognized curriculum – students are placed in outlying primary care and other medical practices for six-week rotations. In addition to providing valuable clinical experiences, the program addresses New Mexico's physician shortage because it can influence where students choose to practice once they're out of school, according to Anthony Fleg, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the UNM Department of Family and Community Medicine and PIE director.

"The Practical Immersion Experience is a unique component of medical education here at UNM, and our students’ first chance to focus on actually caring for patients early in their medical school education," Fleg says. "Through PIE, our communities become part of the classroom, and we are excited to have students get out and explore the various health programs in their PIE communities.”

Students in the program are assigned to rural medical, cancer, women’s health and sleep centers; family medicine and pediatric practices; hospitals, emergency and urgent care clinics; and other health care facilities. Their training includes conducting physical examinations while learning the important subtleties of clinical practice with guidance and supervision from established physician preceptors.

This year, under Fleg’s direction, there is a bigger focus on the community learning in PIE. The “Community Immersion” portion of the course asks students to listen and learn from community leaders around a community-identified health issue. “Much of my work is in connecting clinical care to community health programs,” Fleg explains. “I expect that the community immersion gives our students some unique perspectives on health and wellness that simply cannot be learned within a clinic.”

The experience serves as a springboard for studying the sciences basic to medicine and gives students the opportunity to view medicine from a community perspective and to experience the lifestyle of the community physician.

UNM School of Medicine’s rural medicine program was ranked third in the U.S. in 2017 by U.S. News and World Report. The program has earned a top-three national ranking over the past two decades. 

This year’s UNM PIE medical students are working in practices through July 28 in 33 New Mexico communities that include Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Anthony, Aztec, Bernalillo, Cedar Crest, Chinle, Clovis, Dulce, Española, Estancia, Farmington, Gallup, Grants, Hatch, Hobbs, La Mesa, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Raton, Rio Rancho, Roswell, Ruidoso, San Felipe Pueblo, Santa Fe, Santa Rosa, Shiprock, Silver City, Socorro, Taos, To’Hajiilee and Zuni.