Pullman Regional to welcome first medical residents this spring
After almost a decade of groundwork, Pullman Regional Hospital will welcome its first three family medicine residents this June.
Dr. Stephen Hall is the program director for the Family Medicine Residency at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Initial talks about a residency started when he was teaching undergraduate medical education through the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) medical program in Idaho, he said.
“We decided to go to Colville,” he said. “While we were there, they introduced me to some residents. And I was like, ‘OK, wait a second, how do you have residents — medical education training — at a small place like Colville?’ So that’s when I found out there were things called rural training tracks.”
The process of bringing a residency program to Pullman was a bumpy road. About four years ago the hospital applied to another training program, Hall said, but that program failed to get accreditation. Later on, the WSU medical college approached him about doing a full, three-year residency program.
Initially, Hall said, he was unsure if the hospital would be able to support the rigorous needs of a three-year residency program. But after a thorough review, Hall said, he was convinced.
“My initial response was, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you kidding? That’s an awful lot of work to do,’” he said.
Although it’s only three residents, Hall said, the process took a major effort from doctors and leaders at both the university and hospital.
The residents, Dr. Bolu Olawuyi and medical students Jeffrey Ward and Mohammed Younes, were selected from a pool of 570 applicants and 68 interviewees.
Each resident who was selected demonstrated experience in leadership, experience starting new programs and a passion for rural medicine, Hall said.
“You can be a great student, you can be a great learner, but you might not fit in a program that’s new,” Hall said. “They’ve all developed new programs, and they’ve shown perseverance.”
Olawuyi’s passion to provide health care for rural and underserved communities developed early in childhood. He was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, where he lived until he was 11. Residents often lack access to health because of cost and location.
“There is little to no access to a hospital,” Olawuyi said. “They’re also more pricey in terms of the amount you have to pay just for just being seen for minor illnesses. So a lot of people just self-diagnose themselves, and that usually has a profound impact on their health.”
Olawuyi was drawn to Pullman Regional because of its status as a critical access hospital, and because of opportunities to develop a wide range of skills, including sports medicine, through work with the local universities.
Rural and critical access hospitals offer a uniquely wide range of learning opportunities, Hall said. Unlike hospitals in larger cities, doctors treat many more ailments.
“You don’t have as much backup as you do in another place,” he said. “You don’t have stroke teams, and you don’t have heart attack teams. That’s all stuff that you need to take care of yourself locally.”
Olawuyi’s path to becoming a doctor was a tumultuous one, he said. Throughout his years of medical school, he tutored children to cover living expenses and tuition. During a clerkship in 2017, his Houston apartment flooded when Hurricane Harvey reached Texas.
“I woke up [at] like, literally about 3 a.m. in the night, and my bed was floating. My books were soaked. My computers were also in water,” he said. “I was homeless for I’d say, about two weeks before I was able to get a new apartment. I was pretty much just staying in the hospital.”
Having the support of family, friends and community helped him complete medical school, Olawuyi said.
“That’s why I’ve always wanted to practice in a community that supports each other,” he said.
Now a Canadian citizen, Olawuyi said his resolve to pursue medicine was further solidified by the death of his father a few years ago, after struggling with Type 2 diabetes.
“Witnessing my father’s medical journey, I learned that comprehensive care and preventative management can have a profound outcome on an individual’s prognosis, morbidity and mortality,” he said.
After the three-year residency, Olawuyi said he’s interested in continuing work in the Pullman area and potentially helping to train the next cohort of family medicine residents.
One of the benefits of adding a residency program, Hall said, is that the majority of medical residents will choose to continue practicing medicine at or near where they completed their residency.
“If we can get docs to go through our rural residency and to stay in eastern Washington and smaller communities, that would be such a wonderful thing,” he said.
This report is made possible by the cooperative agreement with NWPB, the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.