Medical Student Plans Rural Practice Combined With International Research

“I didn’t decide to become a physician until my first year of undergraduate school. I knew I wanted to work to help people and to be impactful so I choose biology as a major because it was the basis of most of the careers I was interested in, like medicine or medical research,” Renee Newby, a graduate of the University of Idaho and third-year medical student said in a recent interview.

Newby has been shadowing the physicians at Family Health Center under the auspices of WWAMI’s TRUST program. Let me explain those acronyms. WWAMI stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho and it’s a 45-year old program founded by the University of Washington that facilitates medical education in states that have universities but no medical schools.

TRUST stands for Targeted Rural Underserved Track that “provides a continuous connection between underserved Idaho communities, medical education, and health professionals with the goal of increasing the medical workforce in underserved Idaho communities,” according to the U of I’s Fact Sheet.

It’s not unusual for us to have WWAMI students doing their clinicals here in Sandpoint. What is unique is that Newby has been awarded the prestigious Fogarty International Research Collaboration Award. This research scholarship will take her to Peru for a year, putting her formal medical education on hold while giving her a limitless experience.

The award is named for Congressman John Fogarty (1913-1967) who was a lifelong advocate of international biomedical research who strongly believed that “disease knows no national boundaries” and supported the nascence of the National Institute of Health.

“I have this dream of doing international work,” Newby said. “I would like to come back to Idaho, have a practice in a rural area and continue to do research. In Peru, I’ll be researching tuberculosis meningitis and ways to diagnose it so patients, particularly in rural areas, have better outcomes.”

NIH explains that tuberculosis meningitis happens when the bacteria that causes tuberculosis spreads to the brain and spine from another part of the body, usually the lung. Although rare in the U.S. it does occur. Newby said that the World Health Organization wants to eradicate tuberculosis worldwide by 2020.

“That’s coming up pretty quickly,” she said. “Tuberculosis meningitis, in general, is more common in people with compromised immunity such as HIV. In Peru, I’ll be studying patients both with and without HIV, not a control group but a prognosis assessment.”

Newby has studied Spanish including medical Spanish and, most recently, the dialect spoken in Peru. Like most of us would be, she’s apprehensive about her skill level that she describes as “conversational” but most certainly will learn the colloquialisms quickly.

Back home at the WWAMI office, Mary Barinaga, Assistant Clinical Dean for Idaho said, “This one year fellowship is very competitive. Students have to apply and I’m thrilled that two Idaho students have been awarded this scholarship this year. This is a huge honor.”

And, Barinaga is understating that honor, as only 23 students from all over the U.S. are serving their fellowships this year in wide-spread locations in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, India and Newby’s soon-to-be-home, Peru.

One must think that Newby, a native of rural Ririe, Idaho, wouldn’t have had this opportunity for international studies without the WWAMI program. Barinaga is understandably proud of the program and rightfully so.

She also hails from rural Idaho and, besides her role with WWAMI, practices family medicine in Plummer.

“We’ve come a long way. In the 70s we had twenty or fewer students and that dropped to fifteen in the 80s. The legislature wouldn’t approve more. Now the future is very bright. We have support from the Idaho legislature and the governor and we’ve doubled our students,” Barinaga said. “We’re number one in the nation for rural primary care.”

Newby admits that she’ll probably end up practicing in southern Idaho. That’s where her family lives. But she did say that she’ll miss taking her paddleboat out on the lake, skiing here in the winter time and Eichardt’s salmon sandwich. We wish her all the best.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.