First Heritage College Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways students receive D.O. degrees

Jun 3, 2016

From left: Bethany Heidenreich, Paul Landis, Julius Musenze, John Prokop and Marc Richards

(ATHENS, Ohio) When the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine launched its Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways program in 2013, the purpose was simple: to prepare future physicians to practice in medically underserved communities. In just three years, the program – which was made possible through funding from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation – is well on its way.

RUSP has already expanded from 20 students to 81 this coming academic year, distributed across all three Heritage College campuses. And on May 7, the program passed a milestone, when the first set of RUSP participants graduated with the Heritage College class of 2016.

The small RUSP staff – including Sharon Casapulla, Ed.D., director of education and research; Randall Longenecker, M.D., assistant dean for rural and underserved programs; Dawn Mollica, administrative director; Timothy Law, D.O. (’94), M.B.A., associate director; and Francis Blais, D.O., assistant director – not only organize workshops, field experiences and other training opportunities for students, but also provide guidance and mentoring based on their own experiences.

Reflecting the diversity of both RUSP and the Heritage College, the first five graduates to complete the program come from a variety of backgrounds. But Bethany Heidenreich, Paul Landis, Julius Musenze, John Prokop and Marc Richards all share a common goal – providing  quality health care to underserved populations.

Julius Musenze, who moved with his family from Uganda to Minnesota when he was 16, first saw rural health care privations in his homeland. Since starting medical school in southeast Ohio, however, he has come to realize that the United States has underserved rural regions as well.

“I grew up in a very rural area; we didn’t even have a hospital within 100 miles of where I grew up,” Musenze said. “That’s one of the reasons I went into medicine, because I saw the disparities and realized that access to health care determined how healthy people are. I also see that in parts of rural America, where you don’t have a lot of health care opportunities and people have to travel long distances, the kind of care they get is not the best.”

Musenze, who joined RUSP in his second year at the Heritage College, will be entering an internal medicine residency at the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif. He hopes to one day practice primary care in rural areas of both the U.S. and Uganda, perhaps splitting his time between the two.

From RUSP, he learned “the skills to be adaptive and cope.” But “the very most important thing was the mentorship, because going through medical school without the right mentors is not easy. Dr. Francis Blais and Dr. Randall Longenecker and Dr. Tim Law took me under their wings as mentors. If I had trouble with anything, I could go talk to them, and they would give me guidance. They were always accessible, always available, and always ready to offer their mentorship.”

Bethany Heidenreich entered the RUSP program during her fourth year of medical school, after learning that the program was not only for entering medical students and that her scholarship from the U.S. army did not preclude her from participating.

“I always knew I wanted to do rural medicine,” she explained. “That actually has been my mission since before going into medicine. It’s where my heart is, and my passion. The rural population that I’m most passionate about is global health, international mission. And so the military will help provide the opportunities to travel abroad.”

She is entering a military residency in general surgery at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.

For Heidenreich, the biggest added value of RUSP came from the connections it helped her make. “I enjoyed the support and the networking of fellow classmates, faculty members and physicians all across the state who have the same passions and interests that I do,” she said. “It’s great to problem-solve with them, and just knowing that you’re not alone and overwhelmed, facing those problems by yourself.”

Marc Richards spent some years as a health care consultant before applying to medical school, traveling the country “helping primary care clinics become more profitable and efficient, from Birmingham to Phoenix to Chicago.” He was part of the first contingent of students in RUSP, which started during his second year of medical school. He considered it a near-perfect fit for his career plans, which are to practice primary care in an underserved rural part of Ohio – preferably near his small hometown in Geauga County.

“RUSP exemplified the exact attributes and skills that I would need in order to be a family medicine practitioner in rural Ohio,” he said. “And I thought I could also benefit from seeing the challenges presented on the urban side and have a network of support I could then pull from in the future.”

Richards, who is receiving an OHF-funded scholarship through RUSP based on his commitment to practice primary care in Ohio, will be a resident in family medicine at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in Athens. For him, the support and guidance RUSP offers was the program’s biggest plus.

“What RUSP has also brought me is tangible skills and techniques, with which I will be able to respond to the dynamic nature of rural medicine,” he said. In addition to procedural capabilities students may need to practice in underserved settings, RUSP equips students with skills in problem-solving, collaboration and learning from experience.

John Prokop, another recipient of an OHF-funded RUSP scholarship, likewise joined in his second year. After graduation he heads to a family medicine residency at Akron General Medical Center/Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Having grown up in tiny Oliver, Ohio, Prokop’s aim is to do “small-town medicine.” He said RUSP provided him with the skills needed “to do that comfortably. I feel like it got me exposure to that kind of practice, helped me to be good at it, and expanded my passion and interest as well.”

Like his RUSP colleagues in the class of 2016, Prokop sings the praises of “clinical Jazz,” the program’s intense group case-study discussions, which allow students to delve deeply, thoughtfully and collectively into thorny medical and ethical issues.

“I just like the idea of linking up to work together with your classmates on a problem and come up with solutions,” he said.

Paul Landis, who also joined RUSP as an OMS II, is pursuing emergency medicine with a residency at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Judging by the reviews from the first set of RUSP graduates, word-of-mouth advertising should keep the program filled and even growing after its first five graduates move on.

Prokop said he would recommend RUSP to any medical student, “if you’re looking to go above and beyond in the care of your patient, really.”

Contact Sharon Casapulla for more information on the RUSP program at casapull@ohio.edu

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.