MARQUETTE -For decades, a small Upper Peninsula-based program has offered real-world experience to medical students from one of the state's largest universities.
The Marquette Rural Physician Program annually trains a handful of third- and fourth-year medical students from Michigan State University and provides them with a medical background only available in the U.P.
"Just to hear the students when they come back from being in a small town, oftentimes with a famliy doctor that has gone through our program and is giving back what they got, is a wonderful thing," said Dr. William Short.
Marquette Family Medicine Residency Program faculty member Dr. Brian Waite, right, assists fourth-year medical students Jason Kaiser and Jessica Pruente with suturing training. (Photos provided by MSU College of Human Medicine Upper Peninsula Region)
Short is the CEO of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine - U.P. Region, one of seven statewide campuses that provides clinical training for medical students from the MSUCHM. Other CHM campuses are in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Flint, Traverse City, Midland and Kalamazoo.
The U.P. campus began in 1974 with a base in Escanaba and, through the early 1980s, gradually shifted more of its resources to Marquette.
For the first two years of their schooling, MSUCHM med students attend conventional classes in either Lansing or Grand Rapids. In the final two years, they complete clinical studies at one of the seven campuses.
During their third year, students do two-month clerkships in six fields, from family medicine to obstetrics, in order to get a feel for all types of medicine. In the fourth year, they decide what their medical focus will be and begin training more heavily in it.
Students work one-on-one with doctors and gather for a handful of didactic presentations and discussions during their training. Though most of the training from this campus is done at Marquette General Hospital, Short said students are sent to other U.P. hospitals for some of the clerkships.
Of the seven sites, Marquette - and the Rural Physician Program - stands out for a number of reasons, according to Short.
While there are 100 students at each of the two downstate campuses for their first two years of training, only 14 will make their way to the U.P. in their third and fourth years. Short said the rural training is in such demand that students apply to the U.P. campus and go through an interview process as soon as they are admitted into the MSUCHM.
The students, he said, come because they know they will benefit from the small groups and usually because they are interested in practicing family medicine in a rural area.
"The whole third year up here is much more hands-on than what they would get downstate," he said.
Family medicine is the focus in Marquette and the training represents that. At other sites, students experience eight-week clerkships in every field. In Marquette, though, students first spend four weeks doing a basic family medicine rotation. Upon completing the other clerkships, students in Marquette spend two months at a U.P. hospital, practicing family medicine in a rural environment.
"They typically are with a couple of family doctors," said Short, who added that students have spent time in L'Anse, Houghton, Ironwood, Calumet, Manistique and Newberry, among other locations. "We have a place for them to stay and they are basically there with them for two months."
"The administrators, the dean at Michigan State University, are very proud of what we have here," Short said. "It's where students come who really want to have a more primary care or rural rounding."
Many of those medical students - about half, Short estimates - return as dctors and practice in the U.P.
Students studying in Marquette can also take advantage of the area's wilderness by joining the MSUCHM's Compass Certificate Program. The optional program provides wilderness emergency and sports medicine training and includes a mountain travel and rescue course and an outdoor emergency care course, both through the National Ski Patrol.
Compass students also receive a four-week rotation in wilderness, emergency or sports medicine.
The Marquette Family Medicine Residency Program, which plays host to 18 residents at any given time, is also affiliated with the MSUCHM, as well as the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dr. Tim LaBonte, from Laurium, is one of those residents. He was a medical student at the MSUCHM, but only spent a year of his time there in the U.P.
Following his residency, he hopes to continue working in family medicine and feels the rural experience - for both a med student and a resident - is vital.
"I think the students here get a lot more one-on-one attention with both the faculty and the residents. It is a really nice atmosphere for learning. The students get to see a lot. They get to do a lot," LaBonte said.
The residency at MGH has allowed him to become comfortable in the U.P. medical community. Many times in the region, he has seen doctors begin practicing in rural areas, only to leave soon after and he wants his patients to know he isn't going anywhere.
"I want to get patients and let them know that I'm from up here," LaBonte said. "And I'm not going to be leaving."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.