BY TAMMIE SLOUP
When her father became ill several years ago, the interactions with his doctors stood out to Rock Falls native Heather Moser.
“Going through that interaction with him, and really kind of getting an eye-opening look at several different perspectives from emergency room visits to neurology visits and all the things that came along with him getting sick really opened my eyes. … I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of helping people, especially those from a rural community that don’t always have the best access to health care,” she said.
Moser is now pursuing her dream to practice medicine in a rural community. The nurse and current medical student is a Rural Illinois Medical Student Assistance Program (RIMSAP) participant who is also enrolled in the Rural Medical Education Program (RMED) at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford.
And to learn more about health care needs of rural residents, specifically farmers, Moser joined 26 RMED students during a recent No Harm on the Farm Tour, sponsored by RIMSAP, where two Stephenson County farms served as their classrooms for the day.
Tractor rollovers. A limb caught in an auger. A grain bin accident. All involve injuries medical professionals in rural areas may treat. The tour, led by Doug and Dan Scheider, owners of Scheidairy Farms in Freeport, and Mark Baker, an Orangeville farmer and founder of Stateline Farm Rescue, emphasized injuries and disease on the farm and how to treat them.
Just as importantly, the students were offered advice on how to talk to farmers.
“In general, farmers don’t like to go see you folks,” Doug Scheider told the group. “You need to talk about other things and build relationships of trust.”
Farmers can spend many hours a day on the combine, resulting in stress on the back and other issues. Farmers also may have issues with eating healthy and breathing in chemicals, as well as mental health struggles.
They also may have hearing impairments due to being around loud equipment.
“So, just in case you’re talking to someone, and you think you’re not getting through, they may not be able to hear you,” Scheider said.
Scheider also serves on the RMED recruitment and retention committee. He and son Dan showed the medical students around their dairy farm — a tour they’ve given for 16 years — with Dan noting his fear is not having medical care choices in rural areas due to a shortage of professionals. They expressed their gratitude for the students’ interest in rural medicine, with Dan adding his son was delivered by an RMED grad.
The second stop on the tour was at Baker’s farm, where students participated in a hands-on simulated grain entrapment rescue directed by Baker.
Baker, also a firefighter and emergency medical technician, said his experience shows him farming accidents seem more “horrific” today.
“I think a lot of it is because we are trying to do more with less help,” he said. “The equipment that we’re using is quicker and faster. So, our reaction time may be less. The average age of a farmer is 60 years old. We don’t get around like we used to.”
Students experienced being both rescuers and victims during a grain entrapment using a simulator in Baker’s garage.
“We want to try to bring it to their awareness of the traumas and how violent some of these injuries are going to be,” Baker said. “So, when they go to practice as a doctor, they’ll be prepared for it.”
Cheyenne Carr, a first-year medical student from El Paso, said the simulation was an incredible experience, from learning about the different types of injuries that can occur to the rescue logistics.
Both Carr and Moser are part of RIMSAP, sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois State Medical Society. RIMSAP helps medical school applicants hurdle financial need or borderline academic barriers to a medical education with a recommendation for acceptance into medical school and/or loan money. In return, students must agree to practice medicine in an approved rural community in Illinois for a set number of years, depending on their situation.
Mark Meurer, associate director of recruitment/public relations for RMED, has coordinated the No Harm on the Farm Tour for 16 years. He noted RMED, which includes rural health education on top of the medical school curriculum, has seen an increase in students during the past decade.
“But we’re the only program in the whole country though that actively goes out and recruits students that have rural backgrounds to go to medical school,” Meurer said. The program, which is the largest rural medical education program in the country, has 104 students from 11 states enrolled.
“So, this is our opportunity for our future rural doctors to get out on a farm and actually experience the lifestyle and the culture and the working environment of agriculture in a modern agricultural setting,” he said.
Speaking to the students, Doug Scheider said he believed the tour would be a memorable day.
Moser agreed, adding she never expected such a unique experience in medical school.
“It definitely adds value to why we’re here,” she said. “To see these people that are our future patients in their element, and the kind of hazards they face on a daily basis, … I think that’s really eye-opening and it’s an important experience.”
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.