WVU Physician Assistant Studies students recognized for commitment to serving rural communities

Four students from the WVU School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Studies program are being recognized for their mission to serve rural communities within the Appalachian region.

West Virginia Area Health Education Centers Rural Community Health Scholars

PA Studies students, Courtney Amend, Destiny Noel and Isaac Smith were selected for the West Virginia Area Health Education Centers Rural Community Health Scholars (AHEC) Program.

This two-year program includes 160 hours of clinical, didactic and community-based activities in rural and/or underserved settings. Recipients also receive a stipend during the program.

“The program is a great way to make paying for education a little easier, while also learning how to better serve rural communities,” Smith said.

As part of the program, Smith will be focusing on the effects of substance abuse in pregnant and nursing women.

“By taking this module I hope to learn of ways to prevent and reduce the amount of substance abuse in nursing and parenting women,” Smith said.

Smith has also chosen to add an extra rotation in rural West Virginia to his clinical requirements for the AHEC program and is hopeful the program will better prepare him to care for patients in rural and underserved areas.

“These opportunities I have been provided by the AHEC program will allow me to be better prepared to serve rural communities and will give me an insight on how to best serve them,” said Smith.

For Noel, serving rural and underserved communities was something she has been passionate about for a long time.

“I come from rural Appalachia myself, and I knew when I started PA school that rural medicine was really important to me,” said Noel.

As part of the AHEC program, students must choose a didactic course each year to participate in.

“For my first year in the program, I chose substance use disorder in pregnant and parenting women, and for this year I chose veterans in rural healthcare,” Noel said. “There were many different options, but I chose these because I know these populations are prevalent in rural Appalachia, and I wanted to be able to better understand how to serve these individuals and their unique needs.”

For Amend, the program provided an opportunity to work with rural communities during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I volunteered giving out COVID-19 vaccines to the residents of Greenbrier County,” said Amend. “It was extremely enlightening to work with these individuals in the rural areas because I saw the impact of health disparities in rural medicine.”

The experience was beneficial to both the community and Amend.

“I feel that I was able to make a sizable impact on the community by taking the time to increase their health literacy and empowering the individuals to take control of their health,” Amend said.

Community and Rural Rotations Support

Noel and Amend were also selected for the Community and Rural Rotations Support (CARRS) program which provides financial support for students interested in rural practice. Within the program, students work on community-based projects that provide them with the opportunity to contribute to impacting health outcomes. Students also participate in rotations in one of the high risk or high need communities identified by the program.

Through the program, Amend worked with communities in rural West Virginia to improve health literacy.

“This experience showed me that I am blessed to have a medical education and I realized my passion for teaching others and empowering them to understand their health,” said Amend.

Amend also worked with high school students in the state to discuss opportunities in higher education and medicine.

“I was able to act as the mentor I always wished for to the high school students of the West Virginia Health Sciences & Technology Academy program,” Amend said.

As part of her participation in the CARRS program, Noel will speak to Mingo County High School students about health prevention and health-based career and academic opportunities.

“I want adolescents who are just like me, from a rural area without a lot of resources, to see that no matter what they want to pursue, it is attainable, and they can have a really amazing role in it,” Noel said.

Noel is hopeful that her participation in the AHEC and CARRS program will help improve patient care in rural and underserved areas.

“I think these programs can really impact students’ growth as well as bring something new to these communities,” Noel said.

National Health Service Corps Scholarship

Michaela Foster was selected for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program which awards funds to students pursing eligible primary care health professions training. In return for receiving the funding, students provide primary care health services over a two-year period in Health Professional Shortage Areas identified by the program.

Growing up in rural West Virginia, Foster knew she wanted to serve rural communities.

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity- my schooling is completely paid for, and in turn I will work in a healthcare facility that was underserved two years after graduation,” said Foster.

Foster is excited to get started on serving rural communities in West Virginia this summer as part of her clinical training in the Physician Assistant Studies program.

“One of our required rotations is rural health to which I am excited, and honored, to have been able to get my rotation site only 40 minutes from my hometown,” Foster said.

Foster is hopeful that her work within the Physician Assistant Studies program at WVU and for the NHSC Scholarship Program will lead to higher quality care for patients in rural and underserved communities.

“By becoming a physician assistant and being a NHSC scholar, I can increase access to healthcare in rural communities and provide quality care to those who may not have been able to get care beforehand,” said Foster.

To learn more about opportunities with the WVU Physician Assistant Studies program, visit medicine.wvu.edu/physician-assistant-studies.