Rural Wyoming lacks sufficient number of physicians - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Rural Wyoming lacks sufficient number of physicians


CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming ranks 44th in the country when it comes to the physician workforce.

“With a total of 544 physicians serving a population of about 580,000 people spread across 97,818 square miles, Wyoming ranks 44th in the nation when it comes to having a sufficient physician workforce,” the University of Wyoming said on Tuesday, Aug. 13.

UW participates in a “WWAMI” (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) medical education program which also offers a “Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program.” Students enrolled in WWAMI receive degrees from the University of Washington School of Medicine upon graduation.

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“The four-week elective immersion experience in community medicine — for students between their first and second year of medical school — provides students early exposure to primary care medicine in a rural or urban underserved setting; promotes a positive attitude toward practicing medicine in rural communities; and gives students an opportunity to learn how community health care systems function,” UW says.

When students have experience with rural care during their education, they are more likely to select such locations when they begin practicing medicine.

“’It is an established fact that one of the most important predictors of physicians choosing to practice in rural locations is whether or not the physician was exposed to rural care in medical school,’ says WWAMI Director Timothy Robinson.”

Students in the rural medicine programs work with physicians in more remote locations. 11 students participated in such a program this summer in Wyoming.

One such student was Caleb Brackett of Big Piney, who worked with Dr. Hermilo Gonzalez in Buffalo, according to UW.

“’RUOP has been an incredible experience filled with hands-on application of clinical knowledge,’ Brackett says. ‘I’ve been able to suture, splint, vaccinate, screen and interview numerous patients.’”

“’My doctor has been an incredibly good teacher, and I’ve been able to see everything from a bullet wound to C-sections and Tetralogy of Fallot (congenital heart condition) to Paget’s disease (bone disease).’”

A student from Casper, Conner Morton, spent time on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“’At my RUOP site, I had the opportunity to work at the Indian Health Service facilities on the Wind River reservation. Along with seeing Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone patients in the clinic, I was able to see the strong family bonds and spirituality within the community,’ Morton says.”

“’The Northern Arapaho Sundance grounds, scattered with teepees, tents and campers, embodied the resiliency and preservation of a culture with a tumultuous history, while Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health showed me how the Shoshone people recognize their health disparities and are taking actions to address them. Overall, it was an extremely positive experience.’”

Ola Zarzycka spent time in Sundance as part of the program and plans to return to Wyoming to practice medicine after graduation.

“’My RUOP experience in Sundance has been the best clinical experience I have had thus far in my medical education,'” Zarzycka said. “‘I have enjoyed being in a rural community because I got the chance to know the community members and the patients.’”

Sandra Ritchie is a medical student based in Seattle, UW says. She came to Laramie to participate in the program and says the experience showed her a lot.

“’Working with Dr. Bjore, a geriatrician at Ivinson Memorial Hospital, and her team was wonderful. It felt like being part of a family,’ says Ritchie. ‘Dr. Bjore is the greatest. Her professionalism, her tremendous knowledge and her patience with and compassion for her patients all impressed me. She’s been an excellent role model.’”

She said that the experience showed her how health care in rural settings is different from that offered in Seattle.

“’Understanding available resources, both local and distant, is even more important in rural settings,'” Ritchie said. “‘The research portion of RUOP helped a lot with this. It encouraged plugging into the community and learning more about local services.'”

About 10-15 students participate each summer, according to UW. They have to create community health plans which will be presented at a”WWAMI Reseach Symposium” on November 7 at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie.

Past projects can be viewed online.

UW shared a list of students currently involved in the program, adding the locations and doctors they are working with:

Buffalo — Caleb Brackett, of Big Piney; Dr. Hermilo Gonzalez.

Cody — Sean McCue, of Cody; Dr. Adam Peters.

Douglas — Adam Blaine, of Gillette; Dr. Casey Starks.

Evanston — Kiarra Levesque, of Seattle; Dr. Spencer Weston.

Fort Washakie — Conner Morton, of Casper; Dr. Jackie Nelson.

Gillette — Marina Tkachenko, of Seattle; Dr. Erica Rinker.

Laramie — Sandra Ritchie, of Seattle; Dr. Emma Bjore.

Powell — Amanda Golden, of Cody; Dr. Nicole Comer.

Sheridan — Daulton Grube, of Rock Springs; Dr. Ian Hunter.

Sundance — Ola Zarzycka, of Cheyenne; Dr. Heith Waddell.

Thermopolis — Marcus Couldridge, of Casper; Dr. Travis Bomengen.

University of Wyoming