New student group explores rural health issues

A young boy splashes in a puddle in a rural landscape.

From small town hospital closures to COVID-19 outbreaks in meat packing plants, rural health in Minnesota and the U.S. is a critically important area of discussion and research. In the School of Public Health (SPH), the new Rural Health Student Group provides students the chance to discuss and learn about the health-related issues facing people living outside urban areas.

Mariana Tuttle, research and communications fellow for the school’s Rural Health Research Center (RHRC), started the group in fall 2020.

“We have a lot of students with interest in rural health but there wasn’t an affinity group or club that they could go to, and we thought, ‘Maybe we could start a group?’” says Tuttle. “For a public health school within a land-grant university in a state as rural as Minnesota, it just makes a lot of sense.”

The goal of the group is to give students interested in all-things rural a place to further develop their thoughts and ideas. The group is open to any University graduate student with an academic or professional interest in rural health. The group’s nearly 50 members, mostly from SPH, connect through frequent emails, a Google Group, and, presently, Zoom meetings a couple of times a semester. 

One regular member of the group is Rachel Cruz, an MPH student in Public Health Administration & Policy who’s originally from rural Colorado.

“We have an amazing group of people, and everyone has a unique perspective on rural health, but we share the belief that rural spaces should be supported,” says Cruz. “It’s nice being able to get together to chat about public health with people who share a lot of similar lived experiences in rural areas.”“We might discuss policies, how the media frames rural health issues, or we might have guest speakers sharing their rural health work,” says Tuttle. “Meetings intentionally cover a broad array of different but interconnected topics and we’re open to anything.”

Tuttle polls the students at the start of each semester to see what they are interested in exploring. Previous topics have included:

  • Federal and state-level policies and the implications for rural communities.
  • Racial equity in rural spaces following the murder of George Floyd.
  • COVID-19 in rural America.
  • UMN’s Project REACH to advocate for improved health in rural Minnesota.

Another group member is Maternal & Child Health MPH student Delaine Anderson from Southern California.

“I’m interested in rural health because the quality of healthcare or ease of access to it shouldn’t depend on someone’s zip code,” says Anderson. “The group is great for talking about issues with folks of various academic backgrounds; I always leave the meetings thinking differently about an issue or idea.”