Five University of New Mexico pre-med students came to Lea County this month as a focus of a program to get doctors into rural communities facing shortages.
The Bachelor of Arts Medical Doctor (BAMD) program sends members of next fall’s junior class at UNM into communities around the state.
This summer, for example, 28 students are spread in groups around New Mexico, shadowing practicing medical professionals and learning more about the communities their visiting.
Program coordinators “try to find rural communities and communities with specific needs,” said Jorrell Mirabal, a BAMD student from Magdalena. “We also do some community exploration projects, just to get to know the community and the people in them.”
One focus of the program is to get pre-med students shadowing practicing physicians, with the five BAMD students in Hobbs and Lea County watching and learning with doctors at Covenant Health Clinic and the Jal Clinic. The BAMD students aren’t practicing medicine or seeing patients, they said. What they are doing is “learning … how it is around these clinics,” said Dandre Fralinger of Gallup.
Program administrators at UNM “Want us to work in rural areas,” Fralinger said. “These are the two sides of essentially the same rural area — the larger, urban center and then out in the boonies.”
Fellow student Christian Martinez of Santa Fe agreed.
“That’s the whole point of the (BAMD) program. To get more doctors in New Mexico where they are really needed. Especially in the rural areas.”
Shadowing practicing physicians is only part of the charge during their month-long practicum, Mirabal said. BAMD students, as they learn more about the communities they’re in, select a topic to do a larger study project aimed at leaving those communities perhaps a bit better than they found them.
In Hobbs, and Lea County, the students have taken on the issue of behavioral health, particularly among adolescents and young teens, they said. With New Mexico ranked fourth in the nation in suicides in 2020, the last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has statistics for, mental health is an important topic the students wanted to take a deeper dive into, they said.
And they opted to look at mental health issues among middle schoolers because that age group is particularly susceptible, they said. The changes going on in their bodies, and outside influences from peer pressure all the way to social media, put young people at greater risk for mental health issues and suicide, BAMD student Carlos Jurado of Carlsbad said.
“Anxiety and depression … are leading causes of the high suicide rate here in adolescents,” Jurado said. “And there’s not many mental health facilities or resources where kids can to to get help here.”
“A big problem is the group we’re focusing on is still really young,” Martinez said. “They’re trying to learn who they are, trying to fit in.”
The BAMD students plan to create a presentation, similar in design to a human sexuality or drug use prevention program, to Hobbs Municipal Schools as a potential tool to help students, Mirabel said. They hope the presentation will help school officials and others better recognize the sign of mental illness in students as well as help remove the stigma around mental health issues and lead to more open discussions about the topic.
“Mental illness as a subject really hasn’t been properly talked about until just recently, maybe just over the last decade,” Jurado said. “Now we’re seeing the effects of that, especially after the pandemic, with the isolation, with everything on social media.”
The BAMD students aren’t planning their presentation to be a fix for everything. That wouldn’t work, they said. What they’re hoping to do is provide a “backbone” that would prompt discussion, a starting place to build from to address the larger issues around mental and behavioral health and suicide, they said.
“We’re not going to tell (Hobbs Schools) how they need to do things,” Mirabel said. “It’s more a presentation to them they can use as a tool. And more than anything else, it’s something to get the ball rolling, to get the conversations started.”
The BAMD students plan to host a community forum from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Hobbs Country Club, where they’ll talk about their presentation, the BAMD program in general and what they’ve learned during their time in Hobbs — the importance of community.
“It’s about the power of community and the importance of having a tight-knit community,” Mirabel said. “People who are willing to take on these issues.”