Straightforward account of Young’s time in a program that apprentices students to rural physicians.
The author, now a staff physician at the University of Washington, was a medical student there when she learned of WWAMI, a program that exposes medical students to rural medicine in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Her first placement was a month-long tour of duty in a remote Eskimo outpost where the standard garb for doctors consisted of jeans, hiking boots, and a stethoscope; her first lessons came mainly from watching and listening. Subsequently, she did hospital rotations in Pocatello, Idaho (pediatrics), and Missoula, Montana (internal medicine). With each assignment, Young’s responsibilities increased and she became more of a participant in patient care. She learned the art of connecting with patients and the importance of listening to their stories. By the end of her third year, in love with medicine as she had seen it practiced and yearning to move beyond the rural Pacific Northwest, she took a residency position in South Africa. The lessons there were harsher. With resources extremely limited, HIV skyrocketing, and tuberculosis and diabetes widespread, Young found that doctors had to choose whom to help; the choice was often simply to help those who had a chance to survive. Overwhelmed by disease and death, she nevertheless completed her residency and returned as a full-fledged general internist to Seattle, where she took on the care of patients in a community of refugees and the homeless. WWAMI, Young avers, gave her “intense glimpses into the human experience” and taught her that the patient’s story, the most human element in medical practice, is often the highest reward of doctoring. As she puts it, “Sometimes I enter a story and find I can bring a little light and relief to human suffering.”
Welcome evidence that the art of medicine is still being taught and practiced in a world where technology has all the glamour.