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Students get "hands-on" instruction in Laredo (5/5/97)

Medical students from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are learning "hands-on" medicine with physicians in Laredo.

"I helped deliver at least a dozen babies," said Jim Kopp, one of 12 students who have completed the six-week family medicine clerkship program since it began in October.

The first of its kind in Laredo, the program is made possible by four physicians with the Laredo Medical Group, Mercy Regional Medical Center, and the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative, a special legislative project to enhance health-care education.

Medical students spend most of their third year in a series of clerkship "rotations," six-week intervals when they learn in clinical settings about specialties such as obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, family practice and internal medicine. The Laredo program teaches family practice medicine. It is directed by F. David Schneider, MD, assistant professor, and Barry D. Weiss, MD, professor and chairman of family practice, from the Health Science Center.

In addition to teaching, the program's goal is to expose students to the rigors of being a family practitioner and the unique demands of practicing medicine along the border. Through the program, the university and Mercy hope to attract new physicians to the border region.

Like most communities in South Texas, Laredo and Webb County have a shortage of primary-care physicians such as family physicians, internists and pediatricians. Webb County has 37 primary-care physicians per 100,000 people. The state average is 68 physicians; the national average is 104.

"Being the institution accountable for the health and well- being of the surrounding community, it is our responsibility to attract the most talented and skilled physicians to serve the needs of our growing population," said Mike Morgan, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Regional Medical Center.

Morgan said it is important for Laredo to have an adequate number of physicians to meet the demand expected with completion of the new 50-acre Mercy Regional Medical Center in August 1998.

Working with local physicians, the medical students form opinions. The experience helped Suzanne Lima, a third-year student, decide she wants to be a family practitioner. "Coming to Laredo made things clearer in my mind. I enjoy working with the wide variety of cases and patients," she said. Lima also said she might practice in a border community.

"A number of the students have expressed interest in someday practicing somewhere in the border region," said Maurice Click, MD, an assistant clinical professor with the Health Science Center and one of the preceptors, or instructors, in the program. "That's very encouraging to us."

A student's third year in medical school is influential. With clinical experience, the student begins to decide where he or she would like to practice medicine and what specialty, if any, is most appealing.

"You basically have two types of people in medical school," Kopp said. "There are those who already know what they want, and those who don't know and are waiting for something to grab them."

Kopp gives the Laredo program high marks. "It's just you and the physician and the patient so you learn a lot," he said.

While working with family physicians in Laredo, students learn about providing care to patient of all ages, from pregnant women to children to senior citizens. The program site director, Oscar Lightner, MD, also leads geriatric instruction which includes visits to patients at nursing homes. The other preceptors are Ruben Bocanegra, MD, and Lester Lang, MD.

"We have a close working relationship with our supervising physician in greeting the patient, making an evaluation of his or her condition, and suggesting a course of treatment to the supervising physician. We introduce ourselves to the patient, and explain that we are students. The supervising physician is there and later comes in the examining room to talk with the patient and complete the visit," Lima said.

"This is a great way to learn about family practice medicine," she said. "You learn what conditions you can handle yourself and which situations require a specialist."

The program also helps the physicians stay current. "These students are in medical school and they know the latest on almost any given topic so you have to keep up to date or it becomes pretty embarrassing," Dr. Click said.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570