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Rural Health Scholarly Concentration

The Rural Health Scholarly Concentration offers students an opportunity to learn and engage with rural communities through public health research. The didactic coursework teaches students about community and behavioral public health issues and methods, preparing students for their scholarly concentration research project. The coursework and project are designed to prepare medical students for engaging with unique health issues faced by rural populations.


This concentration is only open to students at the Terre Haute campus. All concentration requirements can be completed online. The scholarly project work can occur in any rural community.

Curriculum and Timeline

Students completing the rural health concentration fulfill the same core curriculum as students in other concentrations. The didactic components provide a strong academic and experiential foundation in public health with a focus on rural health that is vital for completion of the core curriculum project and product. The journal club provides a platform for students to have longitudinal discussions about concentration-related topics with a cohort of students and faculty.

Students interested in doing both the Rural Health Scholarly Concentration and IMPRS program must choose an IMPRS project from the "Community Health Partnership and Education" track. This concentration permits students to do summer clinical work simultaneously with the Scholarly Concentration. Contact the co-directors listed below for more information.

Recommended Pathway

This table shows that the first three topic specific courses should be completed during the summer between first and second year of med school. The fourth topic specific course should be taken during phase one in year two. The two remaining courses, project and product, are longitudinal. The project and product should begin during phase two and conclude on or before the end of fourth year.

Students determine if a concentration pathway will fit in their schedule by contacting concentration co-directors. 

Scholarly Project Topic Examples

Students work with faculty to complete a project in a relevant topic based on student interests. Students are welcome to come up with their own project idea. Potential project topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Rural cancer screening
  • Barriers to care of chronic illness
  • Access to health care specialists
  • Rural issues with prenatal and newborn care
  • Special issues related to rural opioid use
  • Environmental exposures such as lead

Student Testimonials

portrait of emma eckrote"The rural medicine education program and the scholarly concentration have strengthened my desire to serve those in my small community and have afforded me the skills to be able to do so with confidence and greater knowledge of the needs around me. It is preparing me to come home and care for those who took such good care of me."

Why did you choose the Rural Health scholarly concentration?

I grew up on a farm in north central Indiana. This scholarly concentration has allowed me to return home for research, connect and network with medical professionals in my community, and further educate me on the needs and challenges of rural medicine.

What scholarly project have you chosen to undertake, and why?

I am examining the motivations behind choosing midwifery services and community births (home and birthing center births, or out-of-hospital births). In many rural areas, women’s health and obstetric care is directed by midwives. However, much of the research behind the motivations for choosing midwifery come from urban populations. When I got a chance to shadow a midwife after my first year of medical school, I jumped on it. I became interested in learning more about midwifery, the motivations behind choosing community birth, the integration of midwives and obstetricians, and the risks and benefits that come with it. I am very excited for the chance to further explore midwifery in rural areas and why these women are choosing it over the now “traditional” obstetrics hospital-based model.

Headshot of student Sarah HopferHow has your work with your Scholarly Concentration come up in residency interviews?

I'm pretty early in the interview season right now for applying to residency, but I've talked about this project in most of my residency interviews so far. The Scholarly Concentrations Program augments the curriculum along the way and then gives students some advantages. for residency applications as well. It’s given me some depth to have this research experience along with my clinical experiences, service, work and leadership.

What scholarly project have you chosen to undertake and why?

I did a survey of patients coming to three rural clinics in Western Indiana to learn more about what they know of carbon monoxide poisoning and behaviors that can affect their chances of encountering carbon monoxide. Essentially, I gave them a test asking what they know about carbon monoxide and which behaviors are safe and which are not. I also asked some other questions about their general experiences with carbon monoxide.

This came about through a resolution that a colleague and I wrote for the Indiana State Medical Association after one of our professors told us a story about his childhood teacher who passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning. She was a beloved member of the community, and that really touched me and my colleague. We started looking into carbon monoxide laws in the state of Indiana and the prevalence of carbon monoxide poisoning. What we learned was that for its population, the Midwest generally has a disproportionate number of non-fire-related, unintentional carbon monoxide poisonings compared to the rest of the United States. So I really wanted to learn more about why that might be. I chose to look at rural areas because research shows that, in general across the world, carbon monoxide poisoning seems more frequent in rural areas due to using fuel burning to heat the home and cook and such.

I really wanted to learn more about what people knew about carbon monoxide poisoning in rural areas in Indiana and what they knew about how to protect themselves, so maybe we could think about more targeted public health campaigns and being able to protect our community members a little bit better.

Reese Miller"Working in rural medicine gives you the opportunity to think outside of the box and come up with care plans that can be tailored to widely different people. I feel the Rural Health scholarly concentration has taught me how to handle many of these situations while moving forward in my career."

Why did you choose the Rural Health scholarly concentration?

I chose the Rural Health program because it gives me an opportunity to learn more about how the health care system works in a small town. Working in rural medicine presents unique challenges. For example, you have to be able to recognize organophosphate poisoning (agricultural workers are at higher risk) and how to react to the situation without putting more people in harm’s way. You also have to be prepared to take care of someone who is unable to get to the nearest city with the appropriate level of care due to inability to travel. With this scholarly concentration, I was given the chance to learn more about rural medicine and how to handle many of these situations.

Describe the scholarly project you’ve chosen and the inspiration behind this project.

I am doing a project with two of my rural concentration classmates studying how COVID-19 has affected actions taken by people in rural communities. We are focusing on the rural-versus-urban differences in knowledge and actions, and how differences in funding affect those two things. Obviously, COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world in one form or another, so I wanted to understand the different actions each community took to protect themselves from the virus. I believe that differences in these actions can shed some light on public health outreach relating to rural ideologies.

Headshot of student Joe RiggsWhy did you choose the Rural Health Scholarly Concentration?

I grew up in a rural town in East-Central Illinois, where if you really needed any kind of specialty care, you had to travel outside of our town. So I went into Rural Health because I would like to be able to reach out to rural communities that don't really have access to a lot, outside of a couple of family medicine doctors or just very basic primary care, and be able to offer specialized care – or to offer care in general to areas that might be hurting in terms of not having a whole lot of providers in the area.

How has participating in the Rural Health Scholarly Concentration shaped your medical school journey?

With the Scholarly Concentrations Program, we have some generalized classes that everyone takes in public health and things like that. So it's given me a little bit more exposure to public health courses and a wider knowledge of public health and how that affects the public in general, without having to go through and do an extra full year of a Master's in Public Health. It’s shown how public health kind of melds into this idea of rural health and how rural health is important and has been affected over the past several years by a growing deficit of physicians in rural areas.

Outside of that, I'm also in the Rural Medical Education program, which has allowed me to spend my clinical years in Terre Haute. I've been able to do a lot more hands-on stuff in Terre Haute where it's just been me and the physician; there haven’t been any other medical students or residents or fellows or anything like that. So I've been able to get a lot of hands-on experience and exposure to health care in some more rural areas that surround Terre Haute as well. 


Ellen M. Ireland, PhD, MPH

Clinical Assistant Professor

Bio and Contact Information

Robin L. Danek, PhD, MPH

Assistant Professor

Bio and Contact Information

map shows rural health concentration location in terre haute
MD Student News

In their words: Scholarly Concentration Q&A with Rural Health co-directors

Robin Danek, MPH, and Ellen Ireland, PhD, MPH, share details on the Rural Health Scholarly Concentration, which offers students an opportunity to learn and engage with rural communities through public health research.