SHIFT Case Competition student participants prepare their case at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Student-led competition aims to improve rural medicine

Texas medical schools come together to solve health care problems as big as the state
September 21, 2018

Sometimes you need fresh eyes to look at problems that are tough to solve. That’s why three Texas A&M College of Medicine students thought that medical students would have new and creative ideas for tackling the issues of rural health care.

Case competitions—where students are presented with various medical cases to solve—are not uncommon in medical education. The SHIFT Texas Health Challenges Case Competition,  held at the College of Medicine Sept. 22 and 23, presented cases related to one of Texas’ most daunting issues: rural Texans’ access to health care.

Jared Laney, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, Rhett Butler and Thomas Dowlearn came together to plan the competition, outline cases and handle the logistics for the event.

“Rural medicine is a priority for our medical school,” Laney said. “We know other medical schools care greatly about it too, so we thought who better to come up with solutions than Texas medical school students? Let’s get us all together and use a competition to ignite a fire across the state.”

Laney, a second-year medical student at Texas A&M, is a veteran and nurse practitioner as well. He is fluent in Spanish, well versed in medical Spanish and has a knack for finding ways to help those who need it most.

“There is something about seeing what happens when adequate health care isn’t available. No matter where it is, the effects are the same—it sparks something inside you to do more, to be more,” Laney said.

At the SHIFT Competition, seven teams of Texas medical school students came together for two days. They learned more about the health issues faced by rural residents and were presented with patient cases to solve on the first day. On the second day they presented their case solutions, as well as holistic and far-reaching solutions to help the entire community.

The idea was to create a treatment for the patient, but also to treat the issues of the community that influenced the medical case in the first place.

“We are honored to welcome the competitors, some of the brightest and most talented medical students that Texas has to offer, as well as dignitaries to Aggieland to address health disparities in rural areas,” said Carrie L. Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “With Texas A&M’s commitment to improve care in rural populations, the challenge at hand is particularly fitting. I am eager to see the innovative solutions these future physicians develop.”

Texas’s rural health care is in a dire condition. Thirty-five counties do not have a doctor. Twenty-five percent of rural Texans under 65 have no health insurance. There is a 24 percent higher death rate due to heart disease among rural Texans than the national average. Texas also earned a grade of D- on the 2018 National Rural Healthcare report card.

Laney, Butler and Dowlearn explained that they hope to expand on the success of this competition to find solutions to the other two priorities of the Texas A&M Health Science Center: innovation through engineering and military health. They also hope to open the competition to medical students across the nation and expand solutions across the country.


Below are winning teams of the SHIFT Case Competition:

First Place: University of North Texas Health Science Center
Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine
Derek Christensen, Colleen Del Valle, Emily Nelson, Emily Tutt, Tyler Ulmer

Second Place: Texas Tech University Health Science Center El Paso
Paul L. Foster School of Medicine
Brittany Harper, Roxann Lerma, Brandy Mills, Alexandra Palmer, Jacob Winters

Third Place: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Van Dang, Jordan Hoese, Maggie Leland, Emily Lukose

— Katherine Hancock

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