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News / Health / Health Wire

Recent Spokane UW med school grads share hopes of healing as residencies come into focus

By Treva Lind, The Spokesman-Review
Published: April 14, 2024, 6:00am

SPOKANE — Caitlin Quaempts, a new University of Washington-Spokane medical school graduate, will begin a family medicine residency this June for a path she hopes returns her to the Yakama Nation.

After her three-year residency in Klamath Falls, Oregon, she plans to be a family medicine doctor for tribal members, the same as her father. She is a Yakama direct descendent from her dad, a longtime family doctor for Indian Health Services.

Growing up in Yakima, Quaempts joined in tribal food-gathering traditions such as digging roots, gathering huckleberries and netting for salmon. The 25-year-old said eating healthy native foods is part of tribal members’ preventative medicine.

“If you take care of yourself, you will hopefully live a healthy life,” she said. “That is my path of connecting my native roots with Western medicine, but also growing up with my dad, who has been a primary care provider for the Yakama Nation for around 20 years. I’ve really seen his love for patients and how that’s been reciprocated.”

Her residency will expose her to rural medicine, and she hopes to work also with the neighboring Klamath Tribes in Oregon. She’ll be based at Cascades East Family Medicine, connected to Oregon Health and Science University.

Another classmate, Lili Szabo, recently matched to a Spokane internal medicine residency program with Providence Sacred Heart that starts in June. She hopes to remain in the Spokane area as a doctor after that three-year program.

Quaempts and Szabo are among 60 recent graduates of the UW-Spokane Foundations site. The 2024 class celebrated “Match Day” on March 15 for their selections into medical residency programs.

Szabo, 25, said she’s entering the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic Internal Medicine Residency, which is also known as the Providence Sacred Heart Internal Medicine Residency. She’ll rotate seeing clinic visitors and hospital patients at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Szabo, whose parents are from Hungary , most recently lived in Seattle. Her fiancé, Hank Knight, is from Spokane — another reason Szabo is excited about a three-year residency with Sacred Heart .

During her medical school’s fourth year, she did rotations in geriatric medicine, rheumatology, nephrology, radiology, pathology and internal medicine. The latter is where she felt at home. She enjoyed working with internal medicine doctors and discussing the complexity of patients’ cases.

“You spend a lot of time talking with the team and trying to figure out what is going on with a patient, thinking through different organ systems,” Szabo said. “I also really liked being that support person for patients who are going through a really hard time in the hospital.

“People are really sick, and it’s really hard on them and their families. I liked to be that person who could go in and answer their questions, hold their hands and help guide them.”

She tells people that internists are the doctors who often support people who go from emergency rooms to the hospital. A general internist also can be a primary care doctor for annual wellness checks.

“I’m so excited to be in Spokane for a residency. It’s a smaller program and you get to know everybody,” Szabo said. “Spokane has a great medical network. It gets a lot of patients from different areas, and Spokane provides incredible medical care.”

Quaempts’ parents, Sheon and Rex Matthew Quaempts, both came to her Match Day ceremony. Her father worked most of his career for a clinic in Toppenish, Washington, where she hopes to work one day. He now commutes from Yakima part-time as a provider on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton.

Caitlin Quaempts wanted her medical school training to be in Spokane, under the Targeted Rural Underserved Student Track. That gave her regular time in the first three years of school at the Newport Hospital and a nearby clinic.

“It’s the only hospital in the entire county, so you get to see what a full-spectrum family medicine provider does,” she said.

Examples of rural family doctors’ procedures might include doing skin biopsies to rule out skin cancer or a Cesarean section for a birth, if the hospital’s labor and delivery department is staffed, she added.

“They’re doing hospitalist medicine, seeing patients in clinics and getting to do a variety of different procedures that they’re not able to refer out, and they’re also doing surgical OB, so it’s a really cool community.”

In a tribal clinic’s remote location, she plans to listen to patients’ stories and hear whether it’s difficult to get into a specialist.

“That’s entirely why I’m choosing family medicine as my specialty, especially rural family medicine,” she said. “You have to practice a very wide scale of medicine and sometimes go a little bit out of that scope to best serve your patients. Your patients are people; they’re not a diagnosis, not a problem.

“You realize, oh, they can’t be referred to a specialist without having to go through a huge financial burden, taking multiple days off or paying for child care. If I can manage these health problems before they get to a point where they need a specialist or for a little longer before they need to see a specialist, that would be ideal.”

Twelve UW-Spokane class members got matched into regional residency options for family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry and transitional slots, meaning one year in the Spokane area and finishing a residency elsewhere. Most are in Spokane, but four students will go to the Coeur d’Alene Family Medicine Residency.

Other Spokane 2024 UW graduates are heading to medical residency programs nationwide, such as ones at John Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth and Harvard Beth Israel. One of the 60 class members plans to stay here to do research for a year.

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For Caitlin Quaempts, it’s important to to use her residency to encourage healthy practices that are already in place.

“I think the Yakama Nation has something really special called Dance Away Diabetes, where you get to combine health awareness around diabetes with culture, so they do a powwow with a health fair event,” she said. “Even though I consider myself part-Yakama, I’m still going to be a newcoming doctor into an Indian Health Service facility, so I want to see what the people there also think in how I could be of best service to the community.”