KENNEWICK — A group of seven bright-eyed young medical students arrived in Kennewick on Thursday ready to translate book learning into real-world medicine.
The students are part of Pacific Northwest University's first class of medical students, and will be in the Tri-Cities for the next two years doing clinical rotations at Kennewick General Hospital, Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Lourdes Medical Center, Community Health Center La Clinica, Grace Clinic and the Tri-Cities Chaplaincy.
Clinical rotations are the time when third-year medical students leave the classroom behind and go out into the real world of medicine.
"This is the first time we will be able to apply things we're learning in class," said Marie Cadwell of Kennewick, one of the seven students. "I'm really excited to start seeing people and applying that knowledge."
The program is the first of its kind in the Tri-Cities, bringing an entire group of future doctors to the area for training with the hope they'll stay on and practice in the community.
"We're going to be facing a primary care physician shortage in the next few years as we baby boomers retire," said Dr. Sheila Dunlop, a Kennewick doctor and PNWU regional dean. "The goal of Pacific Northwest University is to get primary care physicians into our less-served areas. ... The Tri-Cities is a rapidly growing community, and unless we have people who are willing to come in and care for us, we won't have enough doctors."
It was Dunlop, along with Kennewick General Hospital CEO Glen Marshall, who approached PNWU about a partnership 2 1/2 years ago.
"I have been passionate about medical education from the time I actually came out of school," Dunlop said. "I really want this to succeed."
One reason why it's important is that patients get better care when they have long-term relationships with their doctors, and that means convincing doctors to stay in the community and put down roots, she said.
"With a long-term commitment, they've got the patient's history, they've got a feel for what's worked for this person and what hasn't, what we need to look for in basic health care," Dunlop said. "Physicians, if they're not hooked into a community, have more predilection to come and go. ... If they're trained here, have roots here, have community involvement, they have more of a tendency to stay."
The desire to put down roots is exactly what led student Jaime Klippert of Pasco to the program.
"I've never had to leave Eastern Washington for any of my education, which is pretty cool," she said.
Klippert is a graduate of Pasco High School and Washington State University, and now she's getting her doctor of osteopathy degree through Pacific Northwest University, based in Yakima.
Osteopaths are physicians just like medical doctors, but with extra training in the musculoskeletal system and an emphasis on achieving wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.
PNWU students have the option to participate in clinical rotations anywhere in the Northwest -- from Alaska to Idaho and parts in between. But Klippert wanted to bring her newfound knowledge back home and put it to work.
"This is where I wanted to work," she said. "I know the area and I see the needs. ... Ideally I'll do my residency here and practice here."
While in the Tri-Cities, they'll do rotations in family medicine, pediatrics, women's health, behavioral health, surgery and osteopathic medicine as basic requirements, with the option to focus a little more on certain areas that spark their interest.
Cadwell said she's eager to try out the different fields of practice and see what fits. "I'm thinking primary care, but I want to use these clinical rotations to get a taste of the different kinds of medicine," she said.
Klippert said for now her plans are focused on family medicine, because she knows that's what Tri-Citians need most.
"I see the need for primary care, but I'm keeping my mind open," she said. "Everything sounds amazing."
But both are glad to be doing the work at home.
"I really love the Tri-Cities," Cadwell said. "I think it's a good place to be. I think the school's presence in the Tri-Cities will be felt by a lot of people. I think that's a really exciting thing for the Tri-Cities."
-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org