Making Connections

By Alana Heenan, School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities

Melissa Cookson, Medicine Class of 2019, instills her big family values in all aspects of her life, especially in the pursuit of her medical degree.

Growing up in London, Ontario, Cookson chose to pursue her education in the local area, so she could spend as much time with her family as possible. “Although London is a large city, I have formed plenty of meaningful connections and still frequently meet people who know my family, friends, or neighbours,” she said. “I love making those connections with people I otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to know.”

Cookson initially entered the medical field with a desire to provide compassionate health care, and to eventually be able to impart some of her knowledge to other students, residents and patients in her community.

Now in her third year at Schulich Medicine, Cookson is honing her skills as an ongoing and active participant in the School’s Distributed Education program, an initiative designed to expose medical learners to patients, health systems and health challenges in rural and regional sites across Southwestern Ontario.

After completing her first year at Schulich Medicine, Cookson participated in a qualitative research project with Distributed Education looking at rural physicians’ engagement in medical teaching. The project, called “Faculty Engagement in Distributed Education,” was presented at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) in Winnipeg in 2017 and the Family Medicine Forum in November 2017.

As a clerk, she has completed rotations in paediatrics and obstetrics and gynaecology in Stratford, Ontario, and is now in the midst of a four-week psychiatry rotation in the same community. She is also planning to complete a four-week family medicine rotation in the nearby community of St. Mary’s.

The connections displayed in smaller communities is what drew the medical student to be enthusiastically involved in Distributed Medical Education. “I saw the same opportunities for connection with the health care practitioners in smaller communities, if not to a greater degree,” she said. “Many people have personal connections to their health care providers, making the work environment feel more homey and comfortable.”

Cookson discovered that by learning in rural communities, she not only was exposed to the role of a physician, but also the vital focus on continuity of care.

“When I did my rotation in obstetrics and gynecology, one day I would be in the delivery room and the next I’d be observing gynecology surgeries,” Cookson said. “In this way, I was able to see the full range of what a rural physician does on a daily basis.”

These experiences also taught Cookson about the unique aspects of rural community health care that she otherwise never would have learned or experienced.

She found that in urban centres health care is more focused in divided sub-specialities, but in rural communities, health care is more generalized, allowing for important, long-term connections between physicians and patients.

 “I think learning in various regional settings is a unique experience that medical students have to be a part of to understand. Seeing what life is like practising in a rural community is not only interesting to be a part of, but it can also help in future career decisions, as it has for me,” Cookson explained. “Although I grew up in a bigger city, I know now that being in a small community is where I belong.”