For 25-year-old Brittany Vaplon, returning to her roots in the Wabasha-Kellogg area for the next six months is more than just being able to see friends and family. She’s here to see hospital, nursing home and clinic patients and gain hands-on training that will one day help her to meet the needs of patients who live in small communities and in rural areas.
Vaplon hails from Kellogg, Minn., and is a third-year medical school student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She is participating in the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) which gives students interested in pursuing family medicine the experience of working in a rural primary health care setting. Under the supervision of a family physician, RPAP students learn about clinical medicine and experience the full spectrum of rural medical care as they follow patients throughout the nine-month rotation.
“I’m excited to be here and to see how well these physicians interact with their patients and the community they live in. For me, it’s a huge piece of why I have an interest in family medicine,” says Vaplon. “I like the rural lifestyle and want to care for patients and their family members who live and work in the same community.”
Vaplon is the daughter of Rick and Linda Vaplon of Kellogg, Minn. She graduated from Wabasha-Kellogg High School in 2007 and completed her Bachelor’s degree in nutrition at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. Her passion for learning about medicine began at age 10. In high school, she shadowed family physicians and also worked in the nursing home as a nursing assistant.
Being able to learn the whole spectrum of health care is also part of the appeal says Vaplon. “It’s wonderful to have one-on-one teaching from other providers – including specialists – to really learn the best techniques and practices available,” says Vaplon. Her preceptor (mentor) is Jeremy Solberg, M.D. a former RPAP student himself.
“It’s beneficial for both the student and the practice,” says Dr. Solberg. “Students gain hands-on experience and can follow a patient through the course of a disease or treatment. As a physician, it’s personally rewarding to be a part of teaching the next generation of family medicine providers and showcase the many benefits of practicing medicine in a rural community such as Wabasha.”
According to the University of Minnesota’s website, RPAP was established in 1971 to encourage students to practice in rural areas throughout Minnesota. Over 1,300 students have participated in the program, and two out of three former students practice in Minnesota, two out of three practice in rural locations, and four out of five are in primary care.
Vaplon began her rotation in October and will be conclude in June, 2015. Following medical school, she plans to complete a medical residency and explore career opportunities to practice medicine in a rural setting.
“I want to help people, especially where there is a need,” says Vaplon. “Smaller communities tend to have a greater need and that’s where I want to be.”