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Pee Dee AHEC Clinical Placements Help Students See Challenges – and Opportunities – of Rural Primary Care


Third-year medical student Omar Guerrero didn’t find his passion for a career in healthcare until he began shadowing health professionals as an undergraduate student.

“I just knew that I really loved science and working with my hands,” said Guerrero, who double-majored in Public Health and Cellular & Molecular Biology while at the University of South Florida. It all clicked for him once he was able to observe physicians in their encounters with patients.

“I saw there was a real need for Spanish-speaking physicians,” said Guerrero. “There’s a lot of disconnect between providers and Spanish-speaking patients and I thought that was definitely an area that I could make a difference in.”

Now in his third year at A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, Guerrero is doing a clinical placement at Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. in Richland. Guerrero was connected with Pee Dee AHEC and their Health Professions Student (HPS) program when he needed help securing clinical rotations and housing in South Carolina.

Pee Dee AHEC helped facilitate Guerrero’s placement in a primary care rotation at McLeod Health Cheraw last summer, which opened his eyes to the unique challenges that providers in rural areas face.

“That was my first experience in a really rural place like that,” said Guerrero. “I really enjoyed it because you are kind of like a one-stop shop for the patient. Them going to the doctor that day might be the only time they’re going to the doctor that year, so you have to address a lot of things. Working through all the needs the patient has and addressing them appropriately was really unique and a special sort of care.”

Guerrero noted the lack of resources or specialists in the area made primary care all the more important.

“In an urban setting, they may send you to a cardiologist or nephrologist, for example” said Guerrero. “A lot of care that specialists would usually take care of is handled by primary care in rural areas, so that requires a more comprehensive encounter experience. It’s really important that primary care physicians are available for these rural areas because they’re addressing so much in each visit. Without them, patients would be missing a lot of care they need.”

Guerrero also identified transportation as a major barrier to care in rural settings.

“I was with Ortho (Orthopedics) one day and our patient was saying there is only one physical therapist around their area,” said Guerrero. “For situations like that with rural patients – you have to consider things like location and how far apart different specialists may be when putting together a care plan.”

After completing his rotations at McLeod Health Cheraw, Guerrero recommends other medical students get experience in rural settings while training. “It’s a great opportunity to see things in a new perspective,” said Guerrero. “It will only make you a better, more well-rounded practitioner in the long run.”

Guerrero has continued his involvement with Pee Dee AHEC following his rotations by joining the South Carolina AHEC Scholars program. Part of a national initiative, the AHEC Scholars program helps prepare tomorrow’s health professionals to become leaders in interprofessional, transformative practice who serve those who need it most.

More information about Pee Dee AHEC’s programming can be found on their webpage at


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