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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 379-386

The Rural Physician Associate Program: New Directions in Education for Competency

Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Correspondence Address:
Gwen Wagstrom Halaas
Director of the Rural Physician Associate Program, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, MMC 81, 420 Delaware Street, SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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The Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP) has 34 years experience in training 1097 medical students as independent distance learners in a 36-week, community-based continuity primary care experience. This program has been successful in preparing competitive students who select primary care residencies and return to rural practice. The RPAP program has been based on traditional apprenticestyle clinical teaching with the support of computer-based resources to enhance distance learning. However while the clinical exposure and development of medical skills was strong, there were weaknesses in evidence-based medicine and managing healthcare, and inconsistencies in community or population health learning. New directions in the educational program for RPAP are described that have been or are being developed to address the competencies as outlined by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education. They include online and other resources, preceptor education and support, interactive journaling and cases, electronic portfolios, community projects, observed structured clinical exams and examinations. Ongoing challenges to competency-based education include developing meaningful measures and tools to assess competence for areas such as professionalism or systems-based practice; providing faculty development toward being able to practice, teach and evaluate students with an understanding of the competencies; and to build in ways of practicing, learning and improving care that involve effective teams of health-care professionals.

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