MURRAY, Ky. — Five Murray State University students participated in the Rural Community Health Scholars program this summer, spending four weeks traveling throughout Kentucky and studying community health and population-based health issues within rural communities.

The Rural Community Health Scholars program has been offered for Murray State students since 2007 and is sponsored by the Purchase Area Health Education Center, which is housed in the University’s School of Nursing and Health Professions. The program is an opportunity for students interested in careers in health care to participate in a wide array of hands-on experiences, to shadow physicians and health professionals, to give back to communities and to tour medical schools.

“The Rural Community Health Scholars program provides valuable real-life experiences for students wanting to pursue careers in health care,” said Shanna Burgess, outreach coordinator. “Participating in the program also allows students to give back to the community in tangible ways.”

Participating students included Laken Alexander (McCracken County), Tiffany Harper (Ballard County), Jacob Mullins (Graves County), Bryn Vance (Buffalo, New York) and Aaron Voshage (Jackson, Missouri).

During the program’s four weeks, the students traveled throughout Kentucky to experience different components of rural health care. Activities ranged from shadowing professionals at rural and regional hospitals to assisting with summer health screenings in Fulton and Hickman counties to provide free school and sports physicals. They also toured state medical schools and rural health facilities in addition to partnering with the Wellness Consortium to host a wellness camp for elementary students. The group became certified in CPR and first aid, too, and conducted research on the national opioid crisis.

For Tiffany Harper, the experience was an opportunity to learn as much about her chosen field as possible. She enjoyed touring the hospitals and medical schools, she said, as well as conducting further research about the opioid crisis. The experience also allowed her to begin forming connections with professional mentors.

“There’s so much that you can learn and ask the people that you’re shadowing,” Harper said.

The primary objective of the Purchase Area Health Education Center, which serves 12 counties in far western Kentucky, is to connect students with careers, to connect professionals with communities and to connect communities with better health. The Rural Community Health Scholars program supports that mission by providing a path for students to consider establishing roots in rural communities and making a difference as medical professionals.

“I hope the participants in the Rural Community Health Scholars program take away a greater appreciation and understanding of what rural medicine looks like,” Burgess said. “Ultimately, I hope they see the dire need western Kentucky has for qualified health care professionals and decide to come back to the area when they finish residency.”

Visit murraystate.edu/ahec or contact Burgess at sburgess@murraystate.edu for more information about the Rural Community Health Scholars program or services offered by the Purchase Area Health Education Center.

The five students stand together from a spot that overlooks a town in the mountains.
Five Murray State University students participated in the Rural Community Health Scholars program this summer, spending four weeks traveling throughout Kentucky and studying community health and population-based health issues within rural communities. Pictured from left to right: Jacob Mullins, Tiffany Harper, Laken Alexander, Bryn Vance and Aaron Voshage.
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