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News / Health / Clark County Health

WSU School of Medicine creating ‘homegrown doctors’

Vancouver one of four sites where third-year students come to gain hands-on experience

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 6, 2023, 6:05am

Growing up with a mom who owned her own practice as a primary care physician, Athena Hoppe has fond memories of sitting at the dinner table listening to stories about patients.

While Hoppe studied economics for her undergraduate degree, she ended up following in her mother’s footsteps.

“I really missed so much of those patients’ stories and so much of that purity of mission in medicine, where the patient comes before all else,” Hoppe said.

Now, Hoppe is getting ready to graduate from Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in May, ready to head off to a residency program after spending the last two years of clinical education in Vancouver.

The school of medicine

In the spring of 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 1559, amending an almost 100-year-old law that had previously restricted medical education to the University of Washington. With the passage of this law, Washington State University was now able to teach medicine.

By 2017, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine welcomed its first class of students to the four year program. The school is getting ready to graduate the third class of medical students this spring.

The college of medicine is based in Spokane, where students spend their first two years focused on classroom work, foundational knowledge and some clinical work, according to Christina Verheul, the college’s director of communications and marketing. In those two years, each student also gets to spend two, three-week periods per year at the clinical site where they spend their third and fourth years.

Clinical sites for the program include Spokane, Vancouver, the Tri-Cities and Everett. Students spend the entirety of their third and fourth year at the predetermined clinical site. Currently, Vancouver is home to around 30 medical students from the program, according to Verheul.

To be admitted to the school of medicine, students must have a significant tie to Washington, with the hopes that they will stay in Washington post graduation and continue to serve the community, according to Verheul.

“We want individuals in the medical school who are from Washington and have a passion to stay in Washington and practice medicine in Washington,” Verheul said.

Part of that thinking is a response to the statewide shortage of medical professionals.

“The shortage issue is a real issue,” Verheul said. “The college of medicine was always designed to be part of the solution to that issue.”

Meet the students

Hoppe grew up in Aberdeen, a town of fewer than 20,000 people. While on a surgery rotation in Aberdeen as a student at the school of medicine, Hoppe shared a patient with her mom.

Hoppe’s mother served as the primary care physician for a patient who had been sent to the emergency room while Hoppe was working. When Hoppe walked in, the patient recognized her because she looks so much like her mom, she said.

“I got to oversee her care in the hospital, and it was so cool,” Hoppe said. “She went back to my mom and told her all about it.”

For Hoppe, another main highlight of her time at the school of medicine so far was working with refugees and helping with medical screenings.

At the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine, the curriculum places a strong emphasis on working with rural and underserved populations. During all four years of the program, opportunities to work with these communities are woven throughout, according to Verheul.

In a student’s third year, the first of two clinical years, they rotate through units focusing on pediatrics, gynecology, behavioral health and internal medicine, according to Judi Marcin, associate dean of clinical education. In their fourth year, students choose one of those areas to focus on and are also required to participate in both an emergency medicine rotation and a rotation working with an underserved population.

Leah Kooiman, a third year medical student spending her clinical years in Vancouver, always had a fascination with medicine growing up in Woodland, where her mom worked as a nurse. When applying to medical school, she felt drawn to the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine because of its mission to serve Washington by creating “homegrown doctors,” she said.

One of the program highlights so far for Kooiman was the opportunity to volunteer with a Native American Health Program in Spokane through the Native American Health Center on campus. While spending the summer between her first and second year working with the tribes around the Spokane area, she learned a lot about health disparities and medical trauma faced by many Indigenous people.

“It wasn’t just about that historic suffering, it was really this very beautiful and hopeful thing where they’re very excited about having healing between communities … and improving these entrenched health disparities,” Kooiman said.

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Working with clinician

Fatima Elwalid, a third year medical student from Everett, has spent almost every Tuesday of the past school year working with Dr. Devon Ebbing, a pediatrician at the Vancouver Clinic.

Ebbing has worked with students since the first class of medical students from the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine began their clinical years, in 2019. While working with students, Ebbing provides them an opportunity to practice seeing patients alone.

“That gives the student an opportunity to present to me and pick out the details that the student feels are most important,” Ebbing said. “And then learn to give the information that supports or goes against the diagnoses that they’re thinking about … and then a plan of what to do.”

While at first, having that hands on experience can be a bit intimidating, according to Elwalid, it helps the students put the skills they are learning in school to use.

“At first, it’s kind of scary to go in,” Elwalid said. “And then slowly, I think you get more comfortable and confident in being able to at least gather information.”

The hands on approach to learning medicine and working with patients is key at the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine as the school works to prepare students for residency and then a career in the medical field post graduation.

While still a young program, students at the school of medicine seem to be leaving the program prepared.

“I have been so impressed with the caliber of students,” Ebbing said. “They have all been great advocates for patients, they’ve come in with a sense that they want to do what’s best for the patient.”

To learn more about the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine visit medicine.wsu.edu.

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Columbian staff reporter