East Tennessee State University has a presence all over this end of the state, with students at sites up in Mountain City, on over to Rogersville and down in Sevierville.
“All of our medical students will spend, at some point during their third year, six weeks in Sevier County,” said Dr. David Linville, assistant dean and director of operations for ETSU’s College of Medicine.
Linville was recently named acting associate vice president/executive director for Rural and Community Health, a position that had been held by Bruce Behringer for 20 years until he accepted a position with the Tennessee Department of Health in October.
In assuming his additional new duties, Linville is now getting familiar with the myriad programs offered in ETSU’s rural tracks for students majoring mainly in the health sciences, including a greatly expanded presence in Sevierville in the past few years that will include classrooms and dorms in the third floor of an old renovated hospital next semester.
ETSU’s outreach across the region began small. About 20 years ago ETSU received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that allowed the establishment of the rural primary care track for College of Medicine students. Sites were established in Mountain City and Rogersville and students began working in those communities.
“What that is is a program that allows our medical students to be out in the community their entire four years,” Linville said. “In 2007, we started bringing students from the Academic Health Sciences Center.
“Whether it’s Rogersville, Mountain City, Sevierville, Piney Flats, wherever ... it’s important for folks to get out and see what it’s like to practice in a rural setting,” Linville said.
Medical students do rotations in Sevierville’s LeConte Medical Center, which opened in 2010. In fact, since 2007, 407 medical students have done rotations there.
Pharmacy students practice in Sevierville pharmacies and at the hospital. Public health students are also there. Dental hygiene students go to Sevier County every other Friday and physical therapy students also do rotations in Sevier County.
But it is not just medical students who receive education off campus. Nursing students can take courses in Sevierville and have the opportunity to practice at clinics around the region operated by the College of Nursing. The College of Education has partnered in Sevier County for decades.
“If you just walk through the schools over there, school after school after school, many of those teachers are our graduates,” said Deborah Joyner, with ETSU’s office of continuing studies and academic outreach.
Also, in the College of Arts and Sciences, clinical psychology students go to Sevierville as do students in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.
Besides giving this experiential training, Linville said practicing in clinics and sites around the region gives a broader perspective to students.
“I think part of it is to allow students to see their role in whatever they’re going to be,” Linville said.
Sevier Countians also benefit from ETSU’s presence, Joyner said.
Joyner said ETSU has around 1,600 off-campus students from Chattanooga to Cleveland. There is a very extensive College of Education presence in Sevier County with the master’s of art in teaching degree.
“So we serve tons of students that people don’t realize,” Joyner said.
Joyner’s job is to ensure the off-campus students get everything a student needs that is readily available to students attending class on the main Johnson City campus.
“It’s an opportunity to have students attend our institution who wouldn’t normally do that,” Joyner said of extending ETSU services beyond the main campus.
Allen Newton, executive director of the Sevier County Economic Development Council, is on the ETSU Committee for Sevier County and sees all the contracts regarding ETSU.
“We’re excited about ETSU’s interest in Sevier County,” Newton said. “We’re excited about where we’re going on the educational side. Our goal is for our kids to get a four-year degree without ever having to leave Sevier County.”
The old hospital where LeConte’s operations used to be is undergoing renovations on the top floor to accommodate ETSU students. The renovations include dormitory rooms and smart classrooms.
The old hospital has about 150,000 square feet of space, of which only about 70,000 square feet is usable. That portion is being remodeled and the rest is being demolished. ETSU will occupy the third floor, the county health department will use the second floor and Newton said the county is waiting to see if a Veterans Affairs clinic will open on the bottom floor.
“And the plan with ETSU is not just medical,” Newton said. “They’re hoping to bring all kinds of majors here. It’s a huge benefit obviously for our kids, not only the students at ETSU.”