The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded $2.1 million to the University of Wyoming Family Medicine Residency Program at Casper to expand primary care residency training in Wyoming.
The grant supports the creation of a rural training track to better prepare physicians who will practice in rural communities throughout the state.
The grant, known as “Primary Care Training and Enhancement: Residency Training in Primary Care Program,” will extend over five years, with a focus on hands-on, full-scope training for family medicine physicians planning careers in rural medicine.
The rural training track is the first of its kind in Wyoming and will be centered in Thermopolis. Culminating nearly five years of preparation, the new program is a partnership between the UW Family Medicine Residency Program at Casper and Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital.
The first resident to enter into the rural training track will spend a robust first year at the residency program at Casper. This intern year is set up with a traditional block-rotation format to take advantage of training with specialists and all that Casper’s Wyoming Medical Center has to offer. The intern also receives experience in the Casper core program clinic -- a federally qualified health center known as the Educational Health Center of Wyoming (EHCW), which serves as a safety net for the community. Afterward, the resident will live and train in Thermopolis during the remainder of the second and third years.
Megan Olson, a native of Cheyenne and a 2020 graduate of the Wyoming WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) Medical Education Program, will be the first to begin the rural training track, starting July 1.
As a first-year resident physician, Olson is no stranger to rural medicine in Wyoming. As part of the Wyoming WWAMI program, she completed many rotations in rural communities, including two monthlong rotations in Thermopolis.
“It is an honor to return to Thermopolis as the first rural training track resident,” Olson says. “I look forward to continuing to grow the program and advance my education so that I will be equipped to provide quality health care to residents in Wyoming’s rural communities.”
While in Thermopolis, Olson’s curricular experience will be longitudinal, as she will be fully integrated into all aspects of medical care at the Red Rock Family Practice clinic in Thermopolis, as well as outreach clinics in the neighboring communities of Basin and Worland. Olson also will be involved with all of the medical services at Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital, from the emergency room to labor and delivery to the surgical suite.
Olson will experience firsthand what a physician in any rural setting in Wyoming might see: walk-in patients at the community clinic level; serving in the emergency room at Hot Springs County Memorial Hospital; delivering babies; and whatever else comes along with being a physician in rural health care.
With funding from the grant, Olson and other future rural training track residents also will receive training in the treatment of opioid use disorder and telehealth services.
“Megan is a Wyoming native and a graduate of UW and WWAMI,” says Dr. Beth Robitaille, designated institutional officer for the Family Medicine Residency Program and chief medical officer for the EHCW. “She exemplifies Wyoming’s efforts to grow its own physicians by receiving each step of her training through Wyoming’s medical education pipeline.”
The overall mission of the rural training track is to expand graduate medical education in Wyoming with a heightened focus on training for full-scope, rural family medicine to help meet the health care needs of rural Wyoming communities.
Despite being a new resident training program, the mission of the rural training track is not vastly different from the Casper residency’s core mission: to provide a high-quality, comprehensive educational experience, providing residents with the knowledge and skills necessary to practice frontier medicine.
“The Casper residency program has flourished within the area’s network of health care providers for more than 40 years,” Robitaille says. “Established in 1977, the Wyoming Family Practice community-based program serves more than 8,000 people each year with a full spectrum of family medicine to patients of all ages.”
Dr. Travis Bomengen, the site director and chief medical officer with the rural training track in Thermopolis, says the aim is to “be the best and most sought-after rural training track in the United States.
“The vision we have for our graduates,” he adds, “is to become highly skilled rural physicians.”
Continued challenges in keeping primary care physicians in Wyoming include lack of access to modern equipment, staffing budgets, patient/physician access and the lure of more attractive circumstances out of state.
With the enhanced training Olson and other residents will receive, their knowledge and appreciation of patient care in rural locations throughout Wyoming will better prepare them to meet the health care needs of their communities.
“We want to support and grow rural training for Wyoming’s family medicine residents, medical students and other health care professional students,” Bomengen says. “We want to set a standard of excellence as Wyoming’s first rural training track graduate medical education program.”
To learn more about the Thermopolis rural training track, visit http://thermopolisrtt.com/.