JMU students put study into practice at rural health clinics


SUMMARY: Dr. Laura Hunt Trull recently made participation in one RAM (Remote Area Medical) clinic a service-learning requirement to complete her Rural Health course, SOWK/IPE/NSG 314. Trull feels it is important that the course be both interdisciplinary and experiential.

By: Kyle Kirby '18
Creative Services

JMU students at clinic

To most people, getting every one of their teeth pulled out at once sounds like cruel torture. However, to many residents of rural areas, this brings long awaited relief. Typically, attendees of Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics haven’t had dental care in years, and are in agony because of it. The RAM clinics provide an annual free service of basic health care to those who may not receive care otherwise. Stan Brock founded RAM in 1985, after he broke his arm deep in South America, where the closest medical care was twenty-six days away. The RAM organization provides supplies and pulls together practitioners such as dentists and opticians, who volunteer their time for the weekend.

Dr. Laura Hunt Trull recently made participation in one RAM clinic a service-learning requirement to complete her Rural Health course, SOWK/IPE/NSG 314. Trull feels it is important that the course be both interdisciplinary and experiential. As a Social Work professor, she believes that hands-on experience is vital preparation for the professions many of her students aim to be a part of. Trull wants future nurses and social workers to be familiar with the enormous task of handling an array of peoples’ emotions and needs, while quickly and skillfully administering healthcare. She believes in the strength of interdisciplinary learning, saying, “I don’t need to be a nurse, but I need to know what nurses do.” Healthcare professionals cross paths daily, and it is crucial that they be able to mesh their respective skills. She understands the importance of sharing knowledge, and its pertinence to caring for other people.

“There is no substitute for experience,” Trull said with conviction. Both she and department head Dr. Lisa McGuire agree – viewing firsthand the elation of someone who has been unable to see for two years, and suddenly has the correct prescription glasses, can be life changing for the students. The RAM clinics provide an opportunity for the students to experience their studies in context, while simultaneously providing a precious resource to those in need. McGuire explained that many states, such as Virginia and Tennessee, did not extend their Medicaid programs, which left many impoverished people without healthcare coverage. Affordability and accessibility are the two biggest barriers to consistent, successful rural healthcare. 

The scope of this issue is much larger than many would imagine, even here in the United States. The lessons learned in the Rural Health course and by participating in a RAM clinic are invaluable to becoming a strong healthcare resource to the community.  The knowledge gained is crucial to the professional work ahead of the students enrolled in this course. They better understand and acknowledge the struggle in store as they try to provide and improve healthcare. As McGuire so succinctly put it, “While valuable in many aspects, these clinics are only Band-Aids, not the answer.”

Social Work major, Beatrice Leland, ‘17, has participated in several clinics and shared a similar sentiment about the temporariness of these clinics. Leland spoke of the clinic attendees as being “…not underserved, just un-served.” Her outlook is integral to being a successful social worker – that there is always more work to be done. Leland’s compassion, drive, and concern for those in need are a perfect reflection of the traits Trull intends to cultivate in her students.

JMU students at clinic

These professors and students have invested countless hours working in overlooked communities. They are now looking at the possibility of facilitating a RAM clinic here in Harrisonburg or in nearby Page County, VA. Leland described how our own JMU campus would be the perfect place to host a clinic. She stated, “JMU has this big, rich, beautiful, capable campus – we have the all the necessary power and the resources to care for those in need.” As a fledgling program for those in the Social Work department, currently the main need to progress towards hosting a clinic here in Harrisonburg is people power. Trull plans to teach the Rural Health Course, with the RAM clinic participation requirement, again in the summer of 2017; it will be open to all majors. Regardless of students’ intent to take the class, or their field of study, Trull urges anyone who feels they can help create a more localized clinic to come forward. As Trull passionately stated, “Human beings are a critical part of social work.”

You can contact Dr. Trull by email at

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Published: Thursday, October 13, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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