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Alumni preceptor introduces students to family medicine in rural Virginia
Randall Suslick, M’73, is the recipient of the 2021 MCVAA President’s Award for Exceptional Volunteer Service.
For more than 40 years, Randall Suslick, M’73, has practiced family medicine in rural Chase City, Virginia. And for more than two decades of that time, he also has served as an alumni preceptor, hosting hundreds of medical students for hands-on clinical experience.
In recognition of his years of mentorship and support for the mission of the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Suslick is the 2021 recipient of one of VCU Alumni’s most distinguished volunteer service awards: the MCV Alumni Association President’s Award for Exceptional Volunteer Service.
Suslick first began serving as a preceptor, he says, because he wanted to inspire more medical students to consider family practice in a rural community. During his own medical school years, he completed a rotation in Abingdon, Virginia, and loved it. “I thought that if more students were exposed to that it would help with recruiting physicians to the rural areas.”
What Suslick loves about his practice and wanted to share with students is that “You see everybody,” he says. From children to great-grandparents, he has treated as many as four generations of the same family. When students came for their month-long rotation, they experienced a true immersion in the day-to-day work of his practice. Under his close supervision, they met with patients and applied their own knowledge to making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan.
“Students would see the patients for the first time, and that tests them. They have to start thinking on the fly and learn from that,” Suslick says. Once the students came up with a treatment plan, “then I would go in and listen and we would make sure the plan was right.” Over the years this approach — what one former student described as “the perfect mix of autonomy and supervision” — has helped students experience the impact of personalized care. Once he even led a student in correctly diagnosing a heart attack in a patient presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms, saving the woman's life..
In testimonials supporting Suslick’s nomination for the volunteer service award, former students recalled the lasting impact of their time with Suslick. “He really helped me grow as a student and future clinician,” one wrote. “It made me want to be better: a better student, a better physician, a better person,” contributed another.
Randall Suslick, M’73, invited the local paper to take pictures of students during their internships in rural Chase City, Virginia. For years, he proudly displayed a bulletin board of past students and their newspaper clippings in his office.
Matthew Laws, M’21, wrote, “I was considering pursuing family medicine prior to my clerkship with Dr. Suslick, and by the end of the month, I knew it was the right specialty for me.” Laws will begin his residency training in family medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina later this month.
Beyond the clinical practice, Suslick also wanted students to gain an appreciation for the quality of life and the pleasures of living in a small rural community where, when you walk downtown, people hail you by name and stop to pass the time of day.
He invited students to dinner, boating on the lake or hunting in the fall, and even asked the local paper to come out and take their picture. For years, he proudly displayed a bulletin board of past students and their newspaper clippings in his office.
Laws says he was impressed “by not only how much time he spent teaching me about his patients and various conditions, but also by the amount of time he spent getting to know me as a person.”
But Suslick, who became a clinical professor in 2010, says that as much as his students may have benefited from their time in Chase City, he benefited even more. “It was so much fun teaching and interacting with the students,” he says. “I didn’t think I deserved an award.”