The towns and villages in this area are second to none when it comes to offering a high quality of life. From friendly neighbors to good schools and a strong sense of community, western Ohio is quintessential small-town living at its finest.
As a native and resident of Kenton, I understand first-hand the advantages of our area communities and have a vested interest in their vitality. Further, as a health-care professional and educator, I also realize area residents often face obstacles in terms of health care.
This is a situation that the Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy is looking to address while also providing learning opportunities for our students. Many of our students are from this region, and several will pursue their careers in western Ohio or similar settings. To prepare our students to provide care to underserved patients in rural settings, it is essential they gain practical experience while in college; outreach efforts provide that opportunity for learning.
The health-care needs of rural residents are distinctive. For example, access is an ongoing challenge to individuals in rural communities, where residents often have to travel distances to see a primary-care physician and even farther to interact with a specialist.
ONU HealthWise Mobile Clinic and student health outreach services strive to bring health care directly to citizens in rural areas, offering free health screenings, risk assessment and preventive health education to adults and children. By working with community partners, we look to help connect patients to health and social services resources and also enhance services provided by other professionals. While ONU HealthWise is helping to fill some of these gaps in health-care access, we are very intentional about working with the community services that are already available. It is important to be a good partner and strengthen connection between the University and the community.
The efforts by the college to help prepare students to serve patients in rural settings are guided by a three-pronged strategy that includes theoretical (didactic), practical and scholarly initiatives. Students learn in the classroom about the local community and health care needs, as well as factors that impact people such as cost, access and other social determinants of health.
However, it is essential that students are active in the community, offering service and interacting with patients. Additionally, students routinely partner closely with local agencies, developing and implementing projects that enhance local services. These projects are a wonderful learning experience for students and expand the reach of local agencies.
Illustrations of recent projects include nutrition education to elementary students in cooperation with the local health department, educational activities and screenings in collaboration with the local YMCA, screenings at a charity restaurant during the weekly community meal and education to county employees as part of their wellness program in partnership with the OSU Extension Office. In each case, students work directly with the agency to provide service they can learn from and help the agency.
While the rural lifestyle poses some challenges for access to health care, it also has several advantages. For example, it is relatively easy to network, there is usually less bureaucracy than in larger locales, less distance between providers and, perhaps most importantly, a feeling of cooperation and working together toward a common goal.
This area is unmatched when it comes to quality of life. At ONU, we want to ensure that includes ready access to quality health care.
Michelle Musser is the director of outreach programming for Ohio Northern University’s College of Pharmacy.