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VTC Med School Student Advocates For Rural Communities Here and Abroad

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Third-year Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Miranda Gerrard (center) helps Senior Dean for Student Affairs Aubrey Knight (left) treat a patient while on a medical mission trip to El Salvador. The health of rural communities, in the U.S. and abroad, is a passion for Gerrard.

Growing up on a cattle farm – first in Pine Village, Indiana, and then in Riner, Virginia – Miranda Gerrard has deep appreciation for animals, including the cows, sheep, and pigs she took to 4H livestock shows, as well as the horses she still loves to ride today.

Given her background as one of the few students with a farm upbringing, the now third-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has earned a loving nickname from her classmates, “Moo-randa.”

“The farm initially piqued my interest in the field of medicine as I struggled to feed animals the correct amount of nutrients or I dispensed a needle of medications to a sickly calf. Like the community in which I was raised, I was passionate about raising livestock. But I became even more passionate about the people involved in my surrounding community,” Gerrard said. “While they were tending to their crops and livestock, who was tending to them?”

The next year, she studied abroad in Denmark. While there, she thought she would take a gap year before applying to medical school to do more mission work like she did in Taiwan. “My dad came to visit me in Denmark and brought a huge MCAT study book with him. He preferred that I go straight from college to medical school. To compromise, I told him I would apply to only Virginia medical schools and see if I got in anywhere.”

Gerrard got in more than one. Three of the five schools accepted her. Gerrard realized that her desire to serve like she would on a mission trip could be part of her medical school journey. “I realized that medicine can really help people, and I shifted my focus back to that to be of service to others.”

From her three acceptances, Gerrard selected VTCSOM for two reasons. “First, it would keep me closer to home and my horses, but also because it is within a region of the communities I eventually want to serve,” Gerrard said.

Miranda Gerrard treats a patient while on a medical mission trip to El Salvador.

Now in her third year of study at VTCSOM, Gerrard advocates for both of her passions – rural and global health.

“Most of my classmates don’t have a rural background or understanding of the needs of the communities like where I grew up, but it is the patient population they will interact with here,” Gerrard said. “We talk a lot about having cultural awareness of diverse patient populations, but that’s often in the context of ethnicities, religion, race, and refugees, which is all very important. It’s kind of shocking to me that there’s a lack of understanding among my classmates about the rural population, so I’ve tried to bring that into the discussion. It’s a work in progress.”
VTCSOM uses problem-based learning in the curriculum, where students work in small groups on a patient case every week, learning basic science they need to know to pass required board exams within the context of a real patient. Gerrard enjoys when she is able to use an example from her family’s farm to help her group understand an aspect of the case. “I managed to weave a collage of myself delivering a calf into one of my small group presentations on glial cells.”

Over the summer in 2018, Gerrard was able to fuel her other passion – global health – with travel to Vietnam and Haiti as part of two research projects.

First, she went to Vietnam with her research faculty mentor, Stephanie DeLuca, research assistant professor and director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Neuromotor Research Clinic. DeLuca uses Pediatric Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (P-CIMT) to help children with cerebral palsy, with positive results in the United States. For Gerrard’s project, she is investigating if the technique can work abroad too.

“We spent two weeks in Vietnam and trained 40 therapists in the technique. We trained them in the morning and had sessions with children in the afternoon,” Gerrard said. “While we could not fully measure the improvement because it was not a full training session, we noted some improvements. The kids were so happy and everyone involved had fun.” Back in Roanoke, Gerrard is reviewing the data as part of her full-scale research project, as part of the school’s unique and required research curriculum requirement.

After Vietnam, Gerrard went to Haiti to assist with Kathy Hosig in the Department of Public Health at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine for a One Health project.

This year, Gerrard began clinical clerkships, which she hopes will help her narrow her focus on what field of medicine to pursue. No matter the specialty, she knows she wants to focus on rural or global health or both, to provide care to underserved communities.

“There was a sign in my old hometown that said, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I thought it was clever, but that’s really what it is like in a rural community,” Gerrard said. “That’s the community I want to give back to because they have done so much for me.”

Gerrard is a recipient of the Sam and Priscilla McCall VTC School of Medicine Scholarship. The late Sam McCall was raised in Richlands, Virginia, and studied for a year in business administration at Virginia Tech with the Class of 1958. He moved away from the area to Texas, but his family that remained in rural Southwest Virginia faced limited access to health care. Sam and his wife, Priscilla, who now serves on the VTCSOM Dean’s Council on Advancement, created the scholarship with the hopes that some graduates would stay to practice in the area or other underserved communities.