As part of my medical school’s curriculum, we have a month dedicated to rural medicine. Being born and raised in coastal southern California, I yearned for a true rural experience. I searched for a program where family physicians cared for entire families from infants to their great grandparents and a location that offered natural beauty and bold character. After meeting the family medicine residency director and residents from Central Maine Medical Center, all of whom were very kind and encouraging, it was an effortless choice to schedule a one-month rotation with their Swift River Rural Track in Rumford, Maine.
While at Central Maine Medical Group’s Swift River Clinic, I anticipated offering patients my knowledge and learning medicine from the residents and attendings. However, the people, environment, and community humbled and educated me beyond what I could have expected or ever offer them. In addition, all of the family physicians’ practices have an enormous amount of variety that requires extensive knowledge and dynamic, individualized bedside manner. It was amazing to witness the value placed on the physician-patient relationship and how an escalating level of trust enabled for phenomenally effective health care and maintenance.
Working with the many physicians at Swift River, I had the opportunity to deliver a baby and do well-child checks at the beginning of the week and interview their parents and grandparents towards the end of the week. The practice has a plethora of variety that included obstetrics and pediatrics as well as adult medicine, geriatrics, and psychiatry with a splash of dermatology. Although the physicians all had their own unique styles of practicing medicine, they all expressed a gentle firmness regarding health that is both approachable and earnest. Patients listened intently to everything that we had to tell them.
Becoming part of the family
At first I was unsure how the clinic managed to get be so lucky and have the nicest of individuals for patients. As I worked with each physician over the month and met more patients, I came to realize it was the trust and warm relationship each of the doctors had with each and every single one of their patients, which allowed all pretenses to fade and gave open honesty and respect a chance to flourish. In Rumford, the doctor is a part of the family; the member that helps keep everyone healthy and points out the guilty pleasures people have a hard time quitting – like smoking or eating too much ice cream.
But that is not to say every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. In rural medicine, since a family physician treats such diversity and uniqueness, the practice demands a tremendous deal of finesse and humility. Within a community with little genetic drift and relatively small population size, I encountered some very rare illnesses that do not yet exist on paper and psychiatric issues that are written off as simply being weird. The entire experience grounded me to the reality of the vast unknown and showed me that sometimes kind patience itself within a strong and trusting relationship may be enough to offer relief and hope.
At the clinic as well as in the community, I always felt welcomed. My time in Rumford was not all work without play though. There is a fabulously kind and friendly group who share a love for outdoor adventure that meet weekly to hike a different trail together. When I showed up one Wednesday, I was accepted with open arms and warm greetings. I hiked, dined, and enjoyed their company each and every week until I had to depart for my next medical adventure. The benevolence and gentleness of Rumford has touched my heart and shaped my outlook for the better. Within both the clinic and community, there is an unsurpassed humanity that beckons so gingerly that even after only that short time I spent, to leave was harrowing.
Overall, my time at Swift River was an invaluable experience that I will cherish and has reinforced my passion to become a primary care physician. The opportunity to become a part of someone’s family, encourage healthy living, prevent disease development, and treat their ailments are not only possible, but strengthened by a strong physician-patient relationship. All medical students learn textbook medicine; I learned that practicing medicine demands not only being knowledgeable but also being a member of the community, the family.