Ford gets holistic view of health care during summer experience

Natalie Ford, a second year student in the UNC Physician’s Assistant (PA) program, got a first-hand look at exactly what goes into providing comprehensive care in a rural setting during the two-week Rural Educational Approach to Community Health (REACH) program.

Ford gets holistic view of health care during summer experience click to enlarge Natalie Ford

Natalie Ford, a second year student in the UNC Physician’s Assistant (PA) program got a first-hand look at exactly what goes into providing comprehensive care in a rural setting during the two-week Rural Educational Approach to Community Health (REACH) program. The experience helped cement her commitment to providing care for the underserved.

Ford, who is from Yadkin County, completed an MPH before enrolling in the PA program at UNC. The interdisciplinary nature of the REACH program, appealed to her.

“I thought this was a great chance to mesh the two key areas of my training while also learning from and working with people committed to giving patients the care that they need,” Ford said.

REACH, sponsored by the Greensboro AHEC and based in Asheboro, is a two week program for first and second year medical, PA, and nurse practitioner students. As a part of the experience, students have the opportunity to shadow and learn from medical professionals, meet community leaders, and get a sense for the multidisciplinary approach needed to care for patients both in and out of the clinic.

Ford was the sole student accepted to the program this year.

“This experience has definitely brought my learning to a new level,” Ford said. “It’s one thing to learn the medical science, but it is my goal to provide holistic care for patients, and the REACH program only solidified my desire to practice in a rural setting.”

As a part of the experience, Ford had the opportunity to meet with business leaders in Asheboro, tour the county’s health department, learn about health literacy resources at the Randolph County/Asheboro Library, and work with providers in a hospice facility and in a family medicine clinic.

“It is easy for an outsider to come into a community and just focus on everything going wrong. The part of this experience that was so valuable to me was being able to meet with all of these local leaders, getting a sense of their priorities and also the barriers that they face,” Ford said.

One particularly illuminative experience came when Ford accompanied representatives from the health department on a home visit. She said they were going to visit a couple who had recently had a child taken out of their care by the Department of Social Services.

“I definitely had my thoughts and prejudices on the situation going in. But this family was living in a tiny well house, in an environment that was so small that it was impossible to imagine what it would be like for a child there. But this was their reality,” Ford said. “And the county was working with them to try and help them access the various resources that could help them to find a more suitable place for them to live.”

Ford said that experience mirrored the holistic approach to care taught in the UNC PA program.

“When I was considering programs, UNC’s commitment to rural care really appealed to me,” Ford said. “I’m from a rural community, and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of that community and so part of my personal health care goal is to give back.”