UNR Med’s ‘Rural Ambassador’ Retires

Anderson spent decades building relationships in rural Nevada

Jonathan McCaleb and Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson and Jonathan McCaleb, M.D.'07 at her retirement lunch on June 7. They first met when he was a first-year student in her Clinical Problem Solving group and they continued their interactions through his two preceptorships and rural rotation. McCaleb is a fellowship-trained physician practicing in the greater Reno area. Photo by Anne McMillin, APR.

For 29 years, Jamie Anderson has been the medical school's face in rural Nevada as she traveled among the state's small town communities building relationships with healthcare providers to ultimately develop a quality rural educational experience for generations of medical students.

And those students, most of whom are now practicing physicians, have been at the core of the relationships she has built over the course of her career at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.

"I've always loved Nevada's rural communities and our students; they have been the heart and soul of what I do," Anderson said.

For the last 12 years, first as director, Division of Interdisciplinary Medical Education, and more recently as director, rural medical education, Anderson has been responsible for statewide coordination of all UNR Med rural medical education programs, as well as the development of interdisciplinary health educational opportunities and courses.

Prior to holding those positions, she was involved with community-based rural education at UNR Med, served as an instructor with the Department of Family and Community Medicine, was education coordinator with the Nevada Area Health Education Center and assistant director, Continuing Medical Education. Her formal education is in nursing.

Since the early 1990s, she has reached out to Nevada's rural providers to cultivate relationships to net a rural experience for students in their third and fourth years that would test their problem solving and clinical thinking skills and give them an in-depth patient care experience across a wide spectrum of medical conditions.

Patients and families often consider students as their primary care providers.

When she started traveling the state to establish contact with rural providers, she met with preceptors (community faculty who teach students) in each community and took the time to let them educate her about that community.

"Each small town has different strengths and personalities, but they all knew, and still know, the value of a partnership with the medical school and see it as a positive for their community," she explained.

She said she'd meet with anyone who'd listen to her as a representative of UNR Med and found them, without exception, willing to help in the education of students.

While the rural communities knew the value of partnering with UNR Med from the earliest days, Anderson sometimes had to convince students of that value.

"I'd tell them that this rural experience is a gift. It is a chance to have one-on-one contact with a practicing physician that would challenge them and be dedicated to their learning in a small community," she said, adding that preceptors would give quality feedback to students on their strengths and weaknesses prior to entering residency.

"We've made it an immersive experience into the life of a rural preceptor."

Anderson said the support of rural communities in educating students extends beyond clinical offices. Volunteers in these communities also volunteer their homes to house students during their required four-week rural rotation in their final year of medical school.

"They are always the best, whether community people, doctors, nurses or staff. And the interactions I've had with them has been the part of my job I've enjoyed the most."

Anderson points to the consistent average student rating of 4.8 to 5.0 (five being the highest score) for fourth-year rural rotation experiences as a measure of the successful partnerships between UNR Med and Nevada's rural community healthcare providers. She also notes that the Liaison Committee on Medical Education has "commended" the fourth-year rural rotation in past accreditation cycles.

Because rural communities often lack in health care providers, medical students are often treated as full-fledged physicians by their patients as soon as they arrive in those communities. Medical students in rural settings often spend a lot of time with their patients and form strong bonds with them and their families. Anderson remembers current family medicine resident Aaron Dieringer, M.D.'15, forming such a bond with a patient during his third-year rural clerkship rotation.

"The patient was in the ICU and not doing well, so the family had decided to cease treatment," she explained. "They called Aaron back from his pediatric rotation that day and waited until he arrived to say good-bye."

"This is a powerful example of the impact students have on patients in a rural community. Patients and families often consider students as their primary care providers."

Anderson remembers fondly the rural preceptors she has worked with over the years and points to one in particular, G. Norman Christensen, M.D., as being illustrative of the quality of Nevada's rural physicians.

Christensen, a general surgery based in Ely, is known as the "grandfather of rural medicine in Nevada" according to Anderson.

"He has a no-nonsense approach to teaching - students learn the right way to tie a knot or they don't leave Ely. He has a tough exterior, but a heart of gold. He always wanted what was best for the student and at the end the rotation, students always appreciated him because they learned from him."

Anderson also mentioned Boulder City physicians Warren Smith, M.D., and Herve Bezard, M.D., as being exceptional teachers over their many years of service to the medical school.

"They would always say 'whatever you need, Jamie' and then take the time and effort to come through for us," she said. "Their commitment to the school has been consistent and outstanding."

And that has been a theme throughout Anderson's time in Nevada's rural communities: physicians across the state are consistently committed to providing outstanding teaching opportunities for UNR Med's students.

Faculty and staff at UNR Med said their farewells at Anderson's retirement potluck lunch on June 7 organized by the Office of Medical Education.

In his remarks at the lunch, Tim Baker, M.D.'04, associate dean of medical education, said that Anderson's presence was one of his first memories of UNR Med.

"She was involved in some of my more formative experiences of medical school including my rural rotation in Mesquite," he said, adding that she "has been a huge benefit to this medical school."

Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., UNR Med's dean, said that many people in rural Nevada know the medical school through Anderson.

"They know and trust us because of Jamie Anderson and we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for reminding us of the importance of recommitting ourselves to rural learning."


Contact

Julie Ardito
Senior Director, Advancement & Engagement
Office: (775) 784-6006
jardito@med.unr.edu

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine is a research-intensive, community-based, statewide medical school that has served Nevada for more than 47 years as its first public medical school. Our vision is a healthy Nevada, supported by our mission: establishing excellence in medical education, medical care, research and community engagement, while committing to a culture of respect, compassion and inclusion. Through targeted growth and investment in research, clinical services, education and outreach, we are a resource for improving health care regionally and across the country. For more information, visit: med.unr.edu.