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IUSM-Terre Haute students travel to D.C. for largest rural advocacy event in the country

Feb. 27, 2014

Three students from the IU School of Medicine-Terre Haute recently got the chance to meet with retired Sen. Richard Lugar and current Sen. Joe Donnelly in Washington, D.C., during the largest rural advocacy event in the country.

IUSM students and Joe Donnelly

Jim Turner, M.D., Hicham Rahmouni, Mary Mattern, Teela Crecelius, Sen. Joe Donnelly, Lindsey Junk, and Joe Biggs, M.D.

Teela Crecelius, a fourth-year medical student; Mary Mattern, a second-year medical student; and Lindsey Junk, a first-year medical student, met with Lugar and Donnelly as part of a trip Feb. 3 to 6 to the National Rural Health Association's Rural Health Policy Institute Conference. Crecelius, Mattern and Junk are the representatives for their respective classes in the IU School of Medicine-Terre Haute Rural Medical Education Program.

"It was such a pleasure to meet with the senators," Mattern said. "We met with Sen. Lugar to update him on rural health advancements from the conference and hear about his continued work on the issue, and with Sen. Donnelly to tell our own rural health stories, as well as express the importance of certain policy issues."

Joining the students on the trip were James Turner, M.D., part-time assistant professor of clinical family medicine at IUSM-Terre Haute and medical director of the Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Heath; Joe Biggs, M.D., executive director of the Lugar Center; and Hicham Rahmouni, president-elect of the Indiana Rural Health Association.

The Lugar Center, founded by Lugar in 1992, is the main partner of the IUSM-Terre Haute Rural Medical Education Program. The center has also designed and implemented numerous outcome-based projects aimed at advancing access to, and quality of, health care in rural areas, including the Lugar Center Telehealth and Innovative Technologies Department.

Lugar is also a distinguished scholar and professor of practice in the IU School of Global and International Studies.

IUSM students and Richard Lugar” height=

Rahmouni, Crecelius, Mattern, Sen. Richard Lugar, Junk, Dr. Biggs, and Dr. Turner.

Among the policy issues IUSM-Terre Haute students discussed with Donnelly, as well as other legislators at the conference, were proposed funding cuts to critical access hospitals outside urban areas, an action with the potential to have an impact both on future patients and the future employment of rural physicians.

They also shared the fact that many students from the IUSM-Terre Haute Rural Medicine Education Program intend to return to their home towns to practice at smaller hospitals in the region.

"My home county has only one family practitioner and, growing up in a rural area, my parents had to drive 45 minutes to take my siblings and me to the pediatrician, which meant they had to take excessive time off of work to access medical care," Crecelius said. "I want to help fill this void for people living in rural areas of Indiana so that they have ready access to quality, patient-centered, evidence-based medicine."

In addition to advocating against reductions in rural health funding, Crecelius said a major topic under discussion at the annual conference was the need to preserve spaces within rural health residencies across the country.

"Medical schools nationwide are increasing the number of applicants they accept each year, and new schools are opening each year, including in Indiana with the first school of osteopathic medicine at Marian University, but the number of available residency positions isn't changing," she said. "We used our time at the conference to strongly emphasize the need for increasing the number of available residency positions, particularly residencies that focus on rural health, in order to ensure everyone who wants to practice in rural areas can continue to get the opportunity."

The conference also drove home the power of policy to have an impact on people's lives, Mattern said. An example, she said, was a Nebraska senator's bill introduced during the conference to eliminate a rule requiring critical access hospitals to discharge patients within 96 hours. Critics argue that the law costs patients unnecessary transports to urban hospitals as well as weakens their continuity of care, or forces hospitals to continue care without reimbursement.

"I was really inspired by the power of individuals to make a difference in policy," Mattern added. "The whole trip definitely sparked my interest in policy making and hopefully opened some doors for further exploration."

Beyond the conference and visits with lawmakers, the IUSM-Terre Haute delegation took the time to visit some major D.C. landmarks, including the Lincoln and Washington memorials, the Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, the Library of Congress and National Archives, Arlington Cemetery, Air and Space Museum and Botanical Gardens, plus a personal tour of the U.S. Capitol Building led by two staff members from Donnelly's office.

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