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Helping The Next Generation of Rural Health Providers

Memorial Hospital of Converse County has participated in the WWAMI program for many years. This “one-of-a-kind, multi-state medical education program” serves Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Our hospital is honored to be one of many medical facilities that affords students access to a diverse selection of clinical training sites throughout the participating states.

Third-year University of Washington medical students and Wyoming natives Heidi Hanekamp and Kelsey Tuttle are currently in rotation at Memorial Hospital. They are each completing one of the six required rotations to complete medical school with Hanekamp and Tuttle currently on family and internal medicine rotations, respectively.

Direct Care in Converse County

Both medical students as luck would have it, were able to stay close to home for a portion of their rotations and were drawn to the opportunity to obtain clinical firsthand experience in Converse County.

“There’s something about rural medicine that’s still very wild in a sense,” said Tuttle. “You can pretty much see anything and people are coming in from multiple towns and communities to seek care here. It’s really nice because they’re open and willing to have students and letting us provide direct care, which makes for a great learning opportunity.”

For Hanekamp, the smaller hospital environment has provided her an opportunity to work closely with frontline doctors instead of getting lost in a crowd at larger hospitals.“In a rural location you get a lot of one-on-one time with the attending physician which is important,” she said, “where at bigger places you might be working with a larger group of people. There is quite a bit of clinical firsthand experience you get at a smaller teaching hospital.”

Community Impact

The close-knit community in Douglas has not gone unnoticed by the students who appreciate its small-town feel.

“One of the things that’s really stood out to me is the sense of community in a small town and the relationship doctors have with patients and knowing that the patient you take care of one day may be the person you’ll see in the grocery store the next day,” said Hanekamp. “It’s very important to build good relationships with your patients, and I think the doctors here have really done that.”

“Being from Rock Springs, even though that’s a larger town, some medical care was hours away because we didn’t have what was needed,” Tuttle said. “It’s nice being able to provide some of the most basic care, family medicine, internal medicine, and some of the specialities at Memorial Hospital like cardiology and pediatric endocrinology. Any healthcare service you can offer to someone locally is really important because when you’re sick or trying to manage a disease having one less hurdle to try to be healthy and stay healthy is important.”

Bringing it All Back Home

The unique environment of Memorial Hospital has made an impression on the students.

“The thing I’ve really noticed is how nice it is to have everyone in-house on staff, and sometimes in a rural area you are really on your own,” said Tuttle. “You don’t have a lot of people or resources to call on. We’re here in clinic, but if you have a concern about a patient you can just call over (to another department) and talk to them. It’s nice to be able to call on your colleagues and it makes it feel a little bit more like a team when everyone is under the same group and working for the same hospital, so I think that’s definitely a benefit.”

In addition to providing a diverse selection of clinical settings, the WWAMI program also helps bring doctors to the participating states while providing important learning opportunities.

“Part of the WWAMI programming is designed to bring positions back to Wyoming, and so while I plan to come back, I’m not entirely sure when I’d come back,” said Hanekamp. “It’s a few years off. I think it’s nice, but in medical school we get the opportunity to check out different places through our rotations to see what’s available.

Keeping Things Interesting

“This experience is a great stepping stone to levelling up to the next level of confidence,” Tuttle said. “One thing I’ve learned is you realize the patients don’t read medical books, so when they’re describing things to you it doesn’t always sound like what you’re used to. Just being able to communicate with the patient and really hear them out is an art in itself. Being in clinic raises a whole new level of complexity that a textbook can’t teach you.”

“At times, conveying the importance of something can be a challenge,” said Hanekamp. “Sometimes the importance of taking your diabetic medications can be difficult to convey. It’s important to learn ways to get people to be passionate about their health. Patients may not realize how much they teach us.”

The WWAMI program has operated through the University of Wyoming since 1996. In its 25th year of operation, its impact on Converse County and throughout Wyoming has been remarkable. More information on WWAMI is available here.