John Kindle couldn’t believe his ears. He didn’t just hear that, did he? As he stood proudly wearing the colors of his university, on one of the greatest days of his young life, Kindle was flabbergasted when he heard somebody make a crack about the graduation robes. They were brown and gold (but of course) and not black or another more traditional color.
“I said to them, ‘But that’s us, that’s Wyoming,’” recalls Kindle, a Riverton native whose passion for his home state and his alma mater is obvious within minutes of meeting him. It’s that affection for Wyoming, he says, that drives him and other graduates of the University of Wyoming’s College of Health Sciences to want to give back to the people of the state, to help with their aches and pains, to assist in their rehabilitation from injury, to find a cure for their illness.
“I think the graduates of the University of Wyoming are as unique as the university’s colors. We’re trendsetters and we’re trailblazers,” says Kindle, a physical therapist at the Fremont Therapy Group in Lander. “And I feel like the people of Wyoming are the same. To be able to help that population gives me great joy. I want to help them go out and enjoy the things they enjoy for as long as they possibly can.” Today, Kindle is one of hundreds, likely thousands, of UW graduates working to meet the health care needs of citizens across the expansive and mostly rural Cowboy State.
If you need a doctor in Buffalo, odds are you’ll be face to face with a UW graduate. Four of the six family practice physicians at the Amie Holt Care Center completed their residencies with UW.
Looking for a speech pathologist at the Cody Child Development Center? Three of them are UW alums.
Whether you need a social worker in Riverton, a pharmacist in Torrington or a doctor in Jackson, the impact of UW’s College of Health Sciences is everywhere. And the graduates wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m from Wyoming and Wyoming will always be my home,” says 2011 UW graduate Amber Abel, a speech pathologist who works with babies and toddlers at the Children’s Resource Center in Powell. “That’s why I’m just so proud to be able to be in Wyoming and help the next generation of Wyomingites.”
Jonna Cubin wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Besides wait, that is.
An aspiring doctor, Cubin was preparing to interview for admission to several medical schools when she came to a sobering reality: There was only one place that was right for her.
“I had several planned interviews and I actually canceled all of them except the one with WWAMI,” says Cubin, referring to the unique medical education program that trains primary care doctors for rural practices in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI). “I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t get in, I’ll do something for a year and I’ll interview again because this is really where I want to be, what I want to do.’
“I felt strongly enough about it that I would have waited for them to have me if they didn’t want me the first time I had interviewed.” She didn’t have to wait. Cubin was immediately accepted into the rigorous four-year program in which Wyoming students spend their first year at UW and their second year at the University of Washington School of Medicine before working two years at selected clinical sites throughout the WWAMI region.
When she was done, Cubin could have worked just about anywhere. The Wyoming native—she grew up near Kaycee in one of the state’s most rural settings—had connections in Anchorage, Boise, Seattle and Havre, Mont., where she had done clinical rotations, or she could have stayed with the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware following her five-year residency.
But, again, Cubin did what felt right. She came home.
“I don’t know whose brainchild WWAMI was, but it’s been a profound success for Wyoming,” says Cubin, an emergency room doctor at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper; her husband, Eric, also a WWAMI graduate, works there as an interventional radiologist. “Any time I talk to anybody who is in the state legislature, I brag about the WWAMI program, about how promising it is, how successful it is, how it’s populating the state with physicians who are well trained and have a desire to be in Wyoming.”
When the door opens at Platte Valley Medical Clinic in Saratoga, Jennifer Oiler isn’t sure what to expect. But whether it’s as simple as a wellness check or as serious as a heart attack, Oiler says she’s prepared for it.
In Casper, Roberta Volk’s phone rings. A child could be in immediate danger. A family could be in turmoil. Whatever the case, Volk is confident she can handle it.
Their UW educations, they say, have readied them for anything.
Through challenging degree programs including nursing, pharmacy, social work, physical and health education, exercise and sport sciences, speech, language and hearing science and dental hygiene, as well as minors in health sciences and disability studies, the UW College of Health Sciences promotes excellence in health and human services with a special emphasis on rural populations.
“We have numerous impacts on health care in Wyoming through the process of educating the future health providers for our state. Our students receive their training in most of the hospitals and many of the health care offices in the state. This is a two-way proposition, with students receiving education from practitioners and the practitioners learning about new advances from the students,” says Dean Joseph F. Steiner. “We take a great deal of pride in our contributions to the people of Wyoming, and we are always ready to make our expertise available or to address any unmet needs.”
The desire to serve Wyoming is among the greatest attributes of a UW education, says Kindle, who felt so out of place after launching in his professional career in Colorado that he returned to Fremont County a year ago.
“I want to help the people of Wyoming,” he says. “When somebody tells me they want to do something again, whether it’s climbing a rock wall, or biking up the mountain or milking a cow, I tell them, ‘I’m going to get you doing that again.’”
A social worker for the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS), Volk possesses the same ambition.
“There’s such a sense of pride and self-fulfillment when you can give back to the state,” says Volk, a native of Thermopolis and a 2007 UW graduate who was promoted to a DFS supervisor position in June 2012. “My passion has always been in social work, and the UW program showed me how to make a difference in people’s lives by giving them the knowledge, skills and tools to build them into stronger people.”
She adds, “It’s the success stories that keep me going. It’s the families who I know I can help that keep me going.”
In Saratoga, Oiler carries the same need to help her fellow Wyomingites. She says her UW education not only prepared her to work in a rural setting but also to “live in a rural place and be part of the community.”
And she’s not about to go anywhere else.
“When I first came here, everybody was worried I was only going to be here for a year or less,” says Oiler, who has worked as a family nurse practitioner at the Saratoga clinic since she finished her nursing practicum in 2009 at the UW Family Medicine Residency in Cheyenne. “The question always was, ‘So, how long are you gonna stay?’ I would say, ‘Well, I moved my family here and we bought a house, so I think we’re staying.’”