September 12, 2013The Power of Community Learning: Meshing Rural/Underserved Experiences with a Research Requirement in a Regional Medical Education ProgramAtul Gawande, in his recent New Yorker article titled “Slow Ideas,” describes how changes in health care can be difficult to implement quickly, even if the research is credible and the change could lead to profound improvements. Gawande reminds us that social process is critical to the acceptance of new ideas, and he encourages health and medical educators to help their students learn social and community awareness. The University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) serves as a medical school for five states – Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI). Begun in the early 1970s, the WWAMI medical education program strives to continually improve the environment for student learning even as it has expanded to serve more students in response to regional needs. One of WWAMI’s many innovations was to join with Area Health Education Centers across the five states to offer students transitioning from the first to the second year of medical school a four-week immersion experience with practicing physicians who were providing care for rural and/or underserved populations. The Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program (R/UOP) proved very popular, and each summer 30-50% of rising second year medical students chose to participate. Other students, however, chose to spend the summer between first and second year working on an eight-credit research requirement, the Independent Investigative Inquiry (III). To allow more students to participate in R/UOP, an approach was designed that integrated the research requirement into the R/UOP experience. The result is the R/UOP III.