Nicole Buchele, a MHS Class of 2011 graduate, has returned to Milbank. She is spending nine months in the FARM program, a medical rotation requirement... Nicole Buchele Participates in Medical Rotation at Milbank Hospital

Nicole Buchele, a MHS Class of 2011 graduate, has returned to Milbank. She is spending nine months in the FARM program, a medical rotation requirement of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine program.

“Milbank was my first choice,” she says. “So far, it has been really rewarding and a privilege to be here.”
The FARM program stands for Frontier and Rural Medicine and is administered by the USD medical school. “It’s a rural track medical student program to expose students to rural medicine and encourage them to practice rural medicine in South Dakota once they are done with the schooling,” says Milbank Area Hospital Avera Administrator Natalie Gauer. “We are fortunate to have Nicole here with us this year.”

Nicole is the fourth student to take part in the program in Milbank. “Milbank was one of the inaugural communities chosen for this program beginning in 2014,” Gauer says. “Since that time, the program has expanded to eight.” Milbank, Mobridge, Parkston, Platte, and Winner were chosen to start the program; Pierre, Spearfish, and Vermillion were added this year.
Nine students in Nicole’s med school class applied and were accepted into the FARM program. “All nine of us were given positions,” she says. “They do everything to make sure everyone gets placed somewhere, but we still go through a rigorous process to get here.”

“Many of my classmates do not know or understand what Northeast South Dakota looks like,” she says. “I knew it wasn’t that far from Sioux Falls even when they thought it was in the middle of nowhere. I also knew I would be very comfortable here. It was an easy choice for me. I knew I would see familiar faces and have support instead of feeling socially isolated and not know anybody else.”

Growing up, Nicole knew she wanted to go into the healthcare field, but had fears and doubts. “I liked school and was always good at school,” she says. “ I wanted to do something that was considered academically tough because I liked that.”

As Nicole prepared for college, fears about the commitment of med school began creeping in. “My senior year of high school, I freaked out a little. I didn’t think I could commit to the lifestyle of med school and residency and all those years of schooling. It is a huge commitment and, at 17, I had no idea what I was doing. I also didn’t know if I was smart enough to get into med school.”
Instead, Nicole chose pharmacy and attended South Dakota State University. She was accepted into the pharmacy program her sophomore year and continued for two years. At the end of her junior year at SDSU, she decided to take a leap of faith. “I took the MCAT exam and applied to med school just to see what happened. I knew if I didn’t get in, I would become a pharmacist and still have a good career and life would be good.”

Nicole was accepted into USD’s medical program and began in July of 2015. “Throughout my senior year of college, I still didn’t know if I wanted to go. I was very torn.”

Much of her hesitation came from the desire to be directly involved with patients. “Pharmacists do work closely and, at times, counsel their patients, but it’s not a primary role of the job. I really want to be more directly involved with a patient’s care and have that close relationship. Right now, my top two choices would be family medicine or OB services, but I’m keeping an open mind and trying to learn as much as I can.”

Looking back, Nicole says the strong desire to build those relationships stem from her experiences growing up in a rural setting. “That is all I have ever known – everyone knows their doctor. Not just in the clinic or hospital, but more personally. You see them at church, at ball games, and social events. Even if you don’t want them to know your personal life, they do, because of the closeness of a small community.

Nicole is engaged to Jason Van Winkle. Jason is finishing college and will begin his career as a project engineer at 3M in Brookings. The couple will marry on November 25 and make their home in Sioux Falls. “I get done with my program here the week of Thanksgiving, celebrate the holiday, get married, and begin my clinical rotation in Sioux Falls the following Monday. It will be a crazy time, but it will all work out,” she says.

Nicole says Jason is a very unselfish person and is willing to adjust his career plans around hers. “It will be a hard balance with both of us having professional careers. It’s scary but also kind of fun not knowing where we will end up. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.”

Nicole attributes her attitude in life to her parents, Michelle and Greg. “My dad never thought he would be in Colorado for as long as he was, and then never thought he would come back here for nearly 20 years. And now look where they are – Arizona. You just never know where life is going to take you. I have that attitude too.”

In the meantime, Nicole is happy to be home again. “I feel like I’ve done a 360 in my life. They say it takes a community to raise a child and I truly believe that. Now I get to see everyone who taught me things as a child. It’s really cool to come home and see those same people again. They get to teach me again and are helping shape my future career.

Staff Writer

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