Students Complete Rural Rotations at Banner Payson Medical Center

May 17, 2017

For more than 20 years, medical students and residents have traveled to Payson, Arizona, to learn from physicians how to provide comprehensive, sustainable health care to a rural community.

Banner Payson Medical Center is the only hospital in Payson, serving a population of about 15,000.

Judith Hunt, MD, who is board certified in internal medicine, pediatrics and adolescent medicine, was the first pediatrician in Payson. As a physician in Payson, Dr. Hunt sees more than 60 patients a week, from newborns to patients who are 100 years old. She also trains medical students who rotate into the Payson hospital.

Each year, Dr. Hunt trains about 15 health professional students and residents on inpatient and outpatient rotations from various locations across the country, including the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, the University of Tennessee, Marquette University and University of Southern California.

UA College of Medicine – Phoenix second-year medical student Sophie Sun is one of the 15 students and residents who rotated at the Payson facility within the last year. During her one-month rotation, Sun not only worked in the clinic, but also in the emergency department, on call at the hospital and at a volunteer clinic for low-income adults.

Sun completed a rotation in Payson through the Rural Health Professions Program at the College of Medicine - Phoenix, which is dedicated to inspiring medical students to one day practice in a rural setting. For the 2017-2018 academic year, the rural health program will have 68 rural rotations across Arizona in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, PAL and electives, which will be a combined 332 weeks of rural rotations.

Sun encourages current first- and second-year medical students to consider at least one rural rotation, especially if they are not from a rural background. “It can be easy for us to rest on our pre-conceived notions of a particular population, but it is valuable to link real faces and relationships to these parts of the country,” she said. 

“My significant takeaway from my time in Payson is the value of care that is truly personal and continuous,” Sun said. “Regardless of the setting that I choose to practice in, I hope to become the type of doctor who my patients will trust and return to in their time of need.”

Dr. Hunt is a University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson graduate who grew up in a small farming village and wanted to give back to the community by pursuing rural health care. She joined Arizona Area Health Education Centers, AHEC, which allowed her to do rural rotations and gain role models within the medical community.

“I wanted to be the best rural physician that I could be, so I sought out the AHEC rotations,” Dr. Hunt said. “Now it is my turn to pay it forward and teach medical students and residents about rural medicine.”

Rural health has a strong emphasis on primary care, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics, but students have the opportunity to also do rotations in surgery and emergency medicine. Students are able to experience a mixture of what a rural physician does and where they live.

“Our patients are our neighbors and friends,” Dr. Hunt said. “We are privileged to be invited into their lives.”

Additionally, students have a unique opportunity in Payson to help Dr. Hunt implement a program to decrease the number of teenagers battling opiate addiction, a common problem in rural communities.

“I was there when these teenagers were born,” she said. “I coached them in swim team. These are our children. It is imperative that we find a way to combat this opiate scourge and protect our kid’s lives. Having the medical students help us think ‘outside the box’ is not just about an educational goal. The students are impacting my community’s future, today.”

Dr. Hunt said the Payson medical community wants to build relationships with health professional students, as they are the physicians who will take care of them one day.

“We are truly dedicated to helping them succeed and hopefully, a few of these students will join us in a rural community,” she said.

As a mentor, Sun said, Dr. Hunt encouraged her to think and work independently.

“Dr. Hunt has a very close relationship with all of her patients and it was very rewarding for me to be able to see what real continuity of care looks like,” Sun said. “The life of a rural physician is diverse and challenging and I certainly see why she loves it.”

About the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix admitted its inaugural class of first-year medical students in August 2007 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The College inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. The College is uniquely positioned to accelerate the biomedical and economic engines in Phoenix and the State by leveraging vital relationships with key clinical and community partners. For more, visit


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