By: Jon Patberg, MD candidate
For his undergraduate education, Jon Patberg attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he majored in international politics. Before starting medical school, he worked for several years in Latin America as a public health intern and human rights officer where he cemented his dedication to underserved medicine. He will be graduating from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington, in June 2016.
In college, though I had a difficult time deciding on a career, I was always centered on somehow working toward social justice on a systems level while never loosing the opportunity to counsel and help on an individual level. When I entered the WWAMI Targeted Rural Underserved Track (TRUST) Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine—described in a recent report by Greer and colleagues—I was plugged into a group of medical students and physicians passionate about using their education to serve the most underserved. As part of this group, I knew that no matter which specialty I chose, my work would remain grounded in the principle of health care with a social justice lens.
For me, the centerpiece of the TRUST curriculum is the longitudinal relationship we develop at our continuity sites with physician role models in rural communities. Mentors have always been essential in my career development. However, the way that classical medical education is constructed requires medical students to knit together tidbits of career guidance gleaned from different physicians from three years of largely disconnected educational experiences. Luckily, as a TRUST student, I was afforded the luxury of over 6 months of living and working alongside Dr. Castrodale in Grand Coulee, Washington, witnessing him enjoy the breadth of family medicine while leading his hospital as chief of staff. While there, he not only taught me clinically but invited me over to dinner several times to get to know him and his family on a personal level. As a result, not only did I get privileged insight into the highs and lows of rural medicine, I also built a mentoring relationship that was deep enough to yield discussions, advice, and teaching that has been truly formative in my career choice to practice underserved or rural medicine.
However, the mentoring relationships the TRUST curriculum engenders are not confined to our continuity sites. The TRUST program is structured around such a small and intimate group of students and professors that I was never far from people who could help when I found myself loosing sight of my long-held goals for underserved medicine and community leadership. Through these relationships, the TRUST program offers an excellent buffer to the reasons, both financially and socially, for which a student might logically decide not to pursue underserved or rural medicine.
While academics are essential to medical school, the less tangible challenges of figuring out what kind of physician I wanted to be, how I wanted to interact with patients, and what role I wanted to play in my community are lessons best learned through lived experiences. The TRUST program provided me with those essential experiences and with relationships that helped me get a grip on those intangible challenges.