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Medical Students Gain Experience as Rural Health Care Providers, Researchers in UW Summer Program

September 7, 2022
two men standing in front of a building
Wyoming WWAMI student Scott Killian, right, a UW student from Buffalo, poses with Dr. Spencer Weston at High Country Behavioral Health in Evanston. Killian received a “student doctor” experience this summer through UW’s Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program. (Marisol Contreras Photo)

The WWAMI Medical Education Program on the University of Wyoming campus is home to state-of-the-art teaching classrooms, where students can experience learning at the highest level taught in any medical school.

However, unique to Wyoming WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) is a program that allows students to pursue medical research and experience firsthand what life is like for a physician in many rural communities throughout the Cowboy State.

The “Independent Investigative Inquiry” course -- or Triple I -- follows a number of different tracks. The Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) in UW’s medical school is a four-week elective immersion experience in rural medicine for students between their first and second year of medical school.

Students are paired with practicing physicians so that students can interact firsthand with real patients in settings they will likely encounter after they graduate and return to Wyoming to practice. While at their RUOP sites, students also are expected to complete an abbreviated local health assessment to identify both community assets and public health issues. Using current evidence-based literature, students then evaluate intervention strategies related to one public health issue they identified in their assessment.

Students not choosing to participate in RUOP can complete a summer research project called Scholarship of Discovery (SOD). While RUOP focuses more on the clinical/patient interaction experience, SOD is focused on laboratory research. Of the 20 members of the E-21 class of medical students, 14 were stationed throughout the state in their four-week RUOP elective; five completed an SOD project; and one student completed RUOP in rural Montana.

WWAMI is a five-state education consortium, in which all share similar geographical and socioeconomic characteristics. Wyoming residents attending medical school as part of the WWAMI program receive their degrees from the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We are so fortunate to be able to train physicians in their home state of Wyoming while being associated with the University of Washington, the No. 1 medical school for primary care and family medicine,” says Wyoming WWAMI Director Brant Schumaker.

Sara Martinez-Garcia spent most of her summer SOD experience in her hometown of Casper, conducting research on melanoma incidence while stationed at the Casper Dermatology Clinic with Dr. Tyler Quest.

“I was fortunate to spend a lot of my time in the clinic seeing patients and learning a lot,” Martinez-Garcia says. “I also had the opportunity to go to Lander and volunteer with the Skin Cancer Foundation -- alongside Dr. Quest and Dr. Cobb, from Jackson -- to offer free skin checks to members of the community.”

Also in his hometown of Casper for his SOD experience, Colin O’Neill conducted research investigating outcomes on a novel treatment for shoulder impingement with Dr. Joseph McGinley, a sports medicine physician.

woman standing beside a sign
Sara Martinez-Garcia, a Wyoming WWAMI student from Casper, completed a summer program at the Casper Dermatology Clinic. Her Scholarship of Discovery program is offered through UW’s WWAMI Medical Education Program. (Rebecca Samberg Photo)

“My research experience has been phenomenal,” O’Neill says. “It has deepened my appreciation for the research process and sparked an interest to pursue research within my own career as a physician.”

Bailey Stuart, of Gillette, started her RUOP at Sheridan Memorial Hospital.

“I’ve worked alongside the physicians in several departments, including internal medicine, rheumatology, cardiology, addiction medicine, pathology and emergency medicine,” Stuart says.

Scott Killian, from Buffalo, notes that while it was his last summer break ever, he kept busy. In addition to being a “student doctor” during his RUOP in Evanston, working with Dr. Spencer Weston at High Country Behavioral Health and with Dr. Elizabeth Ricciardi at the Wyoming State Hospital, Killian balanced his time with fitness breaks at the Evanston Recreation Center.

“Evanston truly epitomized how Wyoming communities come together to solve problems,” Killian says. “They used my strengths and knowledge to complement already robust projects on suicide prevention and increased my knowledge through incredible learning opportunities at High Country Behavioral Health and the Wyoming State Hospital. I could not have had a better summer experience.”

Saul Alvarado, of Cheyenne, completed his SOD in Laramie, working alongside Ana Clara Bobadilla, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the UW School of Pharmacy.

“I spent most of my time doing some pretty interesting heroin addiction research with Dr. Bobadilla and, in between, got a little Step 1 board exam studying in. I was busy.”

For either SOD or RUOP, all students are required to present the results of their research at a poster session at the WWAMI Research Symposium. Presentations are part of Wyoming WWAMI’s 25th anniversary celebration at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center Friday, Oct. 28.

All students from the E-21 medical school class, listed by hometown, are:

Afton -- Carson Walker.

Buffalo -- Scott Killian.

Casper -- Tazle Markovich, Sara Martinez-Garcia, Audrey Mossman, Colin O’Neill and Laura Stamp.

Cheyenne -- Saul Alvarado.

Cody -- Bethany Shotts.

Dubois -- Kurt Leseberg.

Gillette -- Brandon Izatt and Bailey Stuart.

Jackson -- Matthew Rorke.

Laramie -- Seth Eckhardt and Christopher Henry.

McKinnon -- Brandon Young.

Powell -- Tristan Bohlman.

Rock Springs -- Hanna Ahuja and Jessica Garcia.

Wheatland -- Samantha Britz.

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