University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine
A community-based medical school, the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine (USDSSOM) maximizes its limited resources to advance the rural state’s highest health priority: ensuring that South Dakotans have access to high-quality, culturally appropriate care. USDSSOM achieves this aim through a comprehensive, community-integrated strategy that relies on strong, long-standing partnerships with towns, tribes, and clinical providers across the state.
USDSSOM recruits students almost exclusively from South Dakota and trains them in innovative programs across the state in the communities that most need them. In addition to required rural rotations for all medical students, nine students participate in the Frontier and Rural Medicine (FARM) program each year. FARM students are immersed in a rural community for nine months, typically working with a small number of physicians to care for a community’s entire population. The school also supports rural residencies with its clinical partners across South Dakota. Evidence indicates that the strategy is working: USDSSOM is at the 98th percentile nationally for the proportion of its graduates who practice rural medicine.
With a state population that includes nine Native American tribes and sizable Hutterite communities, the USDSSOM curriculum embeds cultural competency experiences from orientation to graduation to ensure that students are prepared to care for every South Dakotan. Through tribal and community partnerships, the school offers students many opportunities to understand their neighbors better, such as the required Cultural Colloquium Week, an experience that has students spend time in a culture or setting different from their own.
“We want our students to internalize that every patient encounter is a cross-cultural experience,” says Mark Beard, MD, MHA, assistant dean of medical student education.
Several USDSSOM pathways programs encourage South Dakota youth to consider careers in health care. These include successful programs to recruit Native American students into medicine, including the Native American Healthcare Scholars Program, Native American Healthcare Career Summer Camp, and Indians into Medicine (INMED), which is a partnership with the University of North Dakota that provides a pathway for tribal members to prepare for, enroll in, and graduate from medical school. As a result, USDSSOM is at the 98th percentile nationally for the proportion of graduates who are Native American.
“There is no doubt that the USDSSOM, in carrying out its mission, has rightly focused much of its community service efforts toward addressing the needs of rural and Native American people,” summarizes Leroy “JR” LaPlante, director of tribal relations at Avera Health.
In addition to considering all of South Dakota as their community, faculty and students at USDSSOM embrace an engaged scholarship mindset, sharing their work and lessons learned with the broader medical community through publications, with the objective of enhancing rural workforces throughout the nation.