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Rural medical rotations aim to improve health care
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Rural medical rotations aim to improve health care

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When Johnathan Emahiser was growing up in the Midwest, he wanted to be a funeral home director. But on his first day working at a funeral home, he learned that a wake was not the place for the enthusiasm he brought to the job.

“I made the decision that I would much rather be spending my life trying to help people actually live and actually thrive as opposed to skid into the grave slowly,” he said.

Emahiser is now a third-year osteopathic medical student at Touro University in Las Vegas, and he recently finished a clinical rotation in Elko at the Golden Health Family Medical Center.

Nevada Gold Mines sponsored Emahiser’s rotation by providing a $1,500 clinical scholarship and housing. He was the first student to participate in the clinical rotation in April. A second student also participated at the Golden Valley Health Clinic in Winnemucca in May.

The health clinics are operated by Premise Health and serve NGM employees and families.

Touro University is a nonprofit medical school in Southern Nevada “focused on positively impacting our community in healthcare and education,” according to the website.

NGM and Touro University have partnered since 2016 to provide scholarships to medical students with a preference to students attending the college from rural Nevada. The mining company has contributed $165,000 toward the program so far.

Sponsoring rotations is “an opportunity to continue to expand that partnership to better engage with Southern Nevada medical students to get them to experience rural Nevada life … and hopefully get them to consider a career in the rural Nevada area after graduation,” said Alissa Wood, NGM head of communities and corporate affairs.

The partnership was a good fit for Touro University because the institution’s goal is to educate people who will take care of others, according to Joe Hardy, associate dean of clinical education.

Hardy is also Nevada state senator representing District 12, part of Clark County. He is a graduate of the medical school at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“It came to a point where it just dove-tailed so well that the discussions were wonderful and didn’t’ have to be long at all before we realized we had common goals—take care of people, provide care and be able to do it where they are at,” Hardy said. “And recognize that where they’re at is not always an easy place to get to. Why don’t we get the doctors to them instead of sending them always to other places to see other doctors?”

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Rotations at clinics in rural areas help students like Emahiser gain real-world experience that is important to their development into doctors.

“This is an opportunity that we have for Touro University to have students learn from real doctors seeing real patients in a real background in a real setting,” Hardy said.

During his month at Golden Health, Emahiser said he experienced a range of experiences in emergency care, family medicine and more. He also encountered a range of personalities.

“No one likes going to the doctor. No one likes being sick, but I noticed a lot of miners really didn’t like going to the doctor. They had strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done for them,” Emahiser said. “It was a very good exercise in remembering that a patient is always the expert in their health, and you are just a consultant.”

Emahiser said he thought osteopathic medicine, which teaches a holistic approach to health care including some soft tissue and structural manipulation, was especially appropriate for miners in physically demanding jobs.

The medical student also observed advantages to practicing medicine in a rural community. One advantage is being able to develop close relationships with patients because a doctor is either the only one or is part of a small group that can have efficient communications about patients.

“Theoretically, you could also birth and bury your patients over the span of your career,” he said. “That’s a relationship that is really hard to find in the big city.”

Emahiser said he would consider returning to a rural area to provide osteopathic care after graduation.

Getting out of the big city on a rotation to Elko made an impression on Hardy when he was in medical school. He said it helped shape his career choice to pursue family medicine in Boulder City.

“[I] met and trained with doctors who had a sense of reality, a sense of what was important, a sense of how to take care of family members, how to deal with family and patients, how to help them with resources they have and know resources they needed to get and needed to have in addition to what they already have,” Hardy said. “It was a snapshot of reality of what it is like to be a real doctor and take care of real patients who have real problems and not be intimidated by it but recognize that the physician has something to add in partnership with patients.”

Hardy as a senator and a dean at the college shares the hope with NGM and Premise Health that doctors will settle in Nevada. It means not only better health care for members of the community including the NGM workforce, and more stability for the well-being of Nevada as a state.

“I am thrilled with our opportunity that our students will have to see not just Northern Nevada but Elko particularly and everything about the state,” Hardy said. “So one of my goals, obviously as a state senator, is to make sure I get students to become doctors and come back or stay in Nevada, and this is a wonderful opportunity for Touro University students to be able to see Nevada and say, ‘That’s where I want to live; that’s where I want to be.’” 

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