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Graduates of UW’s WWAMI Program Begin Practicing in Cowboy State

October 18, 2021
Danielle Borin and Roberta Pritchard

For nearly 25 years, newly graduated physicians from the Wyoming-WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Wyoming have focused on setting up in-state practices to bring their medical specialties to rural and underserved communities. However, they do not want the program to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Cowboy State.

UW is home to the state’s medical school -- the Wyoming-WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) Medical Education Program. WWAMI students receive two years of foundations training in their home states and then spend two years traveling around the five states to practice clinical skills.

Once these medical students complete their residencies, they receive their medical degrees through the University of Washington School of Medicine. That is when the real adventure begins.

Students who begin their medical education on the UW campus sign a contractual agreement to return to Wyoming to practice medicine for at least three years, but not all medical school graduates are able to find a fit for their specialty in their home state. This year, 15 newly minted physicians are returning to the Cowboy State as fully trained physicians.

“I am so excited to welcome these 15 physicians back to Wyoming,” says Dr. Brant Schumaker, the new educational director for Wyoming-WWAMI. “What a visible example of the way the WWAMI program is supporting the health care infrastructure in Wyoming. I am looking forward to interacting with these alumni of Wyoming’s medical school.”

Returning Home to Practice

For Danielle Borin, returning to practice in her hometown as a pediatrician at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center was a natural fit.

“I just started practicing in Wyoming after being gone for some time for pediatric training, so I am definitely still adjusting,” Borin says. “So far, I feel everyone in the hospital and all of the families I have met are so extremely kind and welcoming, which has definitely made the transition easier.”

Borin encourages new doctors returning to Wyoming to keep an open mind, noting the challenges of moving to a place with fewer resources than many of the larger hospitals at which students train.

Roberta Pritchard, a Navy veteran and returning emergency room physician from Thermopolis, says she has had a smooth transition in returning to the state, thanks to WWAMI resources.

“The state recruiter (Wyoming Health Resources Network’s Karissa Viergets) keeps up to date with all available hiring opportunities and works directly with residents and physicians to find suitable employment,” Pritchard says. “I found this very helpful. I also knew that the environment of my specialty, emergency medicine, included a shrinking job market. So, with this in mind, I took an extra year of training in emergency ultrasound, which enabled me to provide a critical resource to a rural hospital.”

Pritchard adds that she would advise future physicians considering practicing in Wyoming to seek a specialty in high demand, especially family or internal medicine.

The Wyoming-WWAMI Medical Education Program at UW accepts 20 applicants each year. While the application process is competitive, physicians from the program encourage students who have an interest in pursuing a medical career to find out more about what the program has to offer.

“I felt very prepared in starting my pediatric residency and felt I had incredible opportunities to practice medicine in rural sites before starting residency,” Borin says. “The rural sites also give you an idea of what it may feel like when you return to Wyoming.”

Pritchard adds that she would highly recommend any eligible future physicians to strongly consider the benefits afforded by the Wyoming-WWAMI program.

“Wyoming offers a unique and impressive contract to Wyoming-WWAMI students, which allows them to use time as a provider in state as reimbursement for their medical school debt,” Pritchard says. “This is a huge game-changer for financial planning.”

Recently graduated physicians returning to Wyoming to practice, listed by hometown, specialty and practice location, are:

Big Horn -- Benjamin Widener, rheumatology/internal medicine, Sheridan Memorial Hospital.

Casper -- Morgan Johnson Dheil, emergency room services, Wyoming Medical Center, Casper.

Cheyenne -- Kelly Baxter, urgent care/family medicine, St. John’s Hospital, Jackson; Borin, pediatrics, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center; and Alexander Colgan and Bryan Dugas, both emergency room services, Wyoming Medical Center, Casper.

Douglas -- Tricia Jensen, family medicine, Campbell County Health, Gillette.

Gillette -- Sarah Gregory, OB-GYN, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

Jackson -- Cummings Rork, psychiatry, private psychiatry practice, Casper.

Laramie -- Melissa Dozier, OB-GYN, Cheyenne Women’s Clinic; and Ross Orpet, emergency medical services, Casper.  

Rock Springs -- Andrea Habel, family medicine, Family Physicians of Laramie.

Sheridan -- Elise Lowe, internal medicine, Cody Regional Health.

Thermopolis -- Pritchard, emergency room services, Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Gillette.  

Upton -- Doug Watt, radiology, Campbell County Health, Gillette.

For more information about the Wyoming-WWAMI Medical Education Program, visit www.uwyo.edu/wwami.

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