Despite being well suited to provide the breadth of care needed in rural areas, few general internists become rural physicians. Little formal rural residency training is available and no formal curricula exist. For over 25 years the University of Washington School of Medicine has provided elective WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) rural residency rotations to expose residents to the rewards and challenges of rural practice. This study identified the characteristics of outstanding rural residency rotations.
The key preceptors at three outstanding rural residency sites were interviewed about their experiences, teaching strategies, and opinions about curriculum. Their responses were categorized. Seven university-based residents and eight training at WWAMI sites recorded and rated the value of over 1,500 learning encounters.
The preceptors agreed that outstanding rotations were led by enthusiastic preceptors who served as role models for excellence. These preceptors provided residents with meaningful responsibilities and emphasized independent decision making based on the history and physical examination. They stressed supervised independence and self-directed learning with frequent structured feedback for residents. The residents rated the learning value of patient encounters in rural locations significantly higher than that of those in university clinics.
Exceptional rural residency experiences involve excellent role models who provide meaningful responsibility and emphasize core skills using a learner-centered approach. Rural training experiences should be supported, and the suggestions of outstanding preceptors should be used to develop and disseminate a curriculum that will better prepare residents for rural practice.