Nathan Netsanet grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s largest city. So, he was far from home in every possible sense during his rotation at the Salud Family Health Center in Fort Lupton, population about 7,600, on the edge of Colorado’s eastern plains.
But he loved the place.
In a six-week stint at the Salud clinic, Netsanet, a 2014 PharmD candidate at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, treated patients using the blood thinner, Coumadin. He loved working in rural Colorado.
“It’s an area where you can contribute more,” Netsanet said, recalling how one patient said he’d miss the student when his rotation ended. “Your contribution is acknowledged, and you can see the measurable difference you are making.”
Netsanet is one person in an extensive network of connections between the Anschutz Medical Campus and rural Colorado. Health care professionals from the campus in Aurora provide treatment, education, training and research that impact every county in the state.
“It’s great to see how much we are engaged with rural Colorado,” said Lilly Marks, executive vice chancellor for the Anschutz Medical Campus and vice president for health affairs for the University of Colorado. “But there is more to be done, and I hope we can look at ways to coordinate and expand those efforts.”
CU professionals and students help across the state
The Anschutz health sciences campus contains five schools and colleges—for nursing, pharmacy, dental medicine, public health and medicine. The CU School of Medicine trains MDs, physical therapists and physician assistants, while the Graduate School overarches and works with these programs.
Wander the communities of Colorado and you’ll find CU’s health care professionals and students at work:
- In Montrose, CU Cancer Center physicians Mike Glode, MD, sees patients quarterly while Madeleine Kane, MD, visits there every four months. She also goes to Alamosa three days a month. Glode goes to Edwards one day a week and consults through live video with tumor experts at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
- During the last two years, Colorado School of Public Health staff trained eight people in Yuma County (and more elsewhere) on topics including planning, policy, tobacco control and health care reform.
- In Julesburg, La Jara, Eads and Rocky Ford (as well as in Pueblo and Denver), staff from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences hold classes in diabetes self-management education.
- In 2013, the School of Dental Medicine’s Colorado Smilemakers Mobile Dental Clinic, staffed by faculty and students, provided 464 diagnostic, preventive and restorative procedures to 77 underprivileged children in Yuma County. Since 2007, Smilemakers has seen more than 2,000 patients in five rural Colorado counties.
- CU nursing graduates have taken leadership roles in rural parts of the state at institutions including hospitals, public health departments and nurse-managed clinics.
- The six Colorado Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) regions partner with CU health profession schools to strengthen academic-community ties and improve health, especially in medically underserved areas.
No blank spots on the map
One way to understand the breadth of CU’s role in the state is to look at a map showing the counties where physicians at the CU School of Medicine have treated patients.
There are no blanks spots—it’s every county. In the fiscal year 2012-13, CU School of Medicine physicians saw more than 5,300 patients who live outside of the Front Range. Some of those patients came to the Anschutz Medical Campus for treatment, but many others were seen closer to home, in more than two dozen of the state’s 64 counties.
And that’s just the School of Medicine. All the schools and colleges on the Anschutz Medical Campus have programs that connect CU with rural Colorado.
Looking more broadly, the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI)—which includes CU and a variety of other institutions and community groups—reaches into rural Colorado with programs such as the Food Audit Project. This effort, in which CCTSI is a partner, focuses on availability, accessibility, affordability and production of healthy foods in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
Overall, the University of Colorado serves Colorado communities large and small with more than 200 outreach programs.
To hear what rural Colorado had to say, College of Nursing Dean Sarah Thompson recently went on a week-long trip across the state’s southern tier. The shortage of primary care providers is particularly acute in rural settings, something that Thompson saw repeatedly in her tour of southern Colorado.
“The providers of primary care in rural Colorado, physicians and nurse practitioners alike, are doing amazing work,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are just not enough of them to meet the needs.”
According to the Colorado Health Institute, six Colorado counties had no practicing physicians in 2011.
A few weeks ago, the direction of Tom Clagett’s life changed as he sat with his wife Mindy in a conference room at a hospital in Cortez, population about 8,000, in the southwest corner of Colorado.
The couple was on a “rural immersion” trip organized by Mark Deutchman, MD, who heads the medical school’s Rural Track. They were listening to a local entrepreneur and civic activist named Pete Montano who was speaking to a group of 20 health care students from the Anschutz Medical Campus.
“Be involved,” Montano said.
The words resonated for Tom Clagett, who entered the University of Colorado School of Medicine in August, 2013. Everything the Clagetts saw told them that a rural setting like Cortez was the kind of place they were looking for—a place where they could be involved.
“I want to feel valued and appreciated.” Tom Clagett said. “I want to feel like I am doing something the community really needs.”
Thousands of student rotations
Since 1999, CU health science students have completed some 8,700 rotations statewide. While many were in metro areas, many others were not—137 in Cortez in those years, 564 in Alamosa and 183 in Montrose, to cite a few.
This geographic diversity benefits CU by offering a variety of training sites, but it also benefits the local communities through ties such as those described by students Clagett and Netsanet.
Netsanet said the experience opened up for him the possibilities of a career in a rural setting. He said he’s still sifting through his choices “but now, this is an option I would consider.”