Mark Twain Riverboat in Hannibal, Mo.

This summer, two health professions students traveled to Hannibal, Mo. for four days as part of MU’s Rural Immersion Program, which seeks to highlight the social and communal aspects of rural life to students who hope to work in the medical field.

This program exists due to an increasing lack of healthcare in rural Missouri. By introducing students to rural areas during their time in school, the program leaders hope it will broaden their perceptions of what rural life is like and incentivize these students to practice medicine in a rural area after graduation.

Kendall Miller, who is currently enrolled in the Speech Language Pathology Master’s program, is from a rural area already, but says she wanted to explore a town that she was unfamiliar with through the eyes of a health professional.

Kendall Miller (left) and a classmate on the Mark Twain Riverboat tour.

Kendall Miller (left) and a classmate on the Mark Twain Riverboat tour.

“I loved talking to professionals from various disciplines at Hannibal Regional Hospital,” Miller says, “They assured all of us that they have great jobs in a supportive workplace that welcomes new ideas.” Miller’s group also went through a poverty simulation to better understand the stress and challenges that poverty brings. “Poverty is a reality in many rural areas,” Miller says, “So it was incredibly moving to take on the perspective of people we will serve as health professionals.”

The students also met with many community leaders from different areas, even those outside health professions, such as the arts, business, and education.

Master of Public Health student Stephanie Lilly says she was surprised at how state-of-the-art Hannibal Regional Hospital was. “Although smaller than hospitals in densely populated urban areas, this facility could compete academically and skillfully with urban area hospitals.”

Stephanie Lilly (farthest right) and her classmates on a scavenger hunt around Hannibal

Stephanie Lilly (farthest right) and her classmates on a scavenger hunt around Hannibal

The students also learned that there are some benefits to working in a smaller rural hospital. “A pharmacist from Hannibal Regional taught us that at a smaller rural hospital it is easier to get what you want accomplished,” Lilly says, “If you have an innovative idea there are less hoops and less competition at rural hospitals to turns those ideas into reality.”

In addition to learning about the healthcare infrastructure in Hannibal, they also got to play the part of tourists. They visited the Mark Twain Riverboat, the Sodalis Nature Preserve, and the Bluff City Theatre to get a well-rounded perspective on what life in Hannibal is like.

Both Lilly and Miller have plans to practice in rural areas when they graduate, and both recommend the Rural Immersion Program.

“I strongly recommend it to people who are not from rural areas or question their desire to practice in a rural area,” Miller says, “Many of the myths that program attendees had about health professions in a rural area (e.g., older technology, fewer resources, fewer jobs) did not hold true in this community. Rural areas need health professionals and have so much to offer, I would love for everyone to see the opportunities that exist there. They are so abundant!”

Details about the 2019 Rural Immersion Program are to be determined, but check the School of Medicine’s Facebook for more information in January.