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MY TURN: Love letter to North Idaho from a homegrown physician

by BROOKE POTRATZ, M.D./Guest Opinion
| February 28, 2024 1:00 AM

In February, many people are writing love letters, and although this may sound cheesy, I thought I’d write one for North Idaho. I am a homegrown Idaho physician in my last year of training, and I wouldn't have gotten to where I am now without the support of my community. 

I grew up in Sandpoint, enjoyed the outdoors, playing volleyball and loved science, especially my high school anatomy and physiology classes. While trying to determine my career path, I was encouraged by a professor to shadow a local doctor. It was this experience that influenced me to become a doctor. During this experience, I saw how impactful rural physicians can be in their community by providing medical care and also being involved in local politics, school sports and community service.

In 2016, I started attending Idaho WWAMI Medical Education at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The University of Idaho has partnered with the University of Washington School of Medicine since 1972 to educate and train Idahoans here. This creates a pipeline of physicians that have roots across the state. Idaho WWAMI's impact is evident in the high physician retention rate of 51%, surpassing the national average of 39%. 

While on the Palouse, I enjoyed a blend of academic and community medicine. I learned from leading scientists in their fields and worked with community physicians in their local practice, seeing Idahoans in the clinic and the hospital.

As a third-year student, I was selected for a special program where I returned to Sandpoint and spent five months rotating with family physicians, internists and pediatricians in my hometown. The connection between medicine and community reaffirmed my dedication to serving rural Idahoans.

After graduating from medical school, I spent three years at the Family Medicine Residency at Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, training to be a family doctor in the clinic, hospital and emergency room.

Today, I am a Rural Health Fellow, splitting my time between Kootenai Health and Orofino, a rural Critical Access Hospital. This additional year has expanded my training, so I'm equipped to practice rural medicine and care for the people in this beautiful, rugged, remote state. 

The numbers paint a stark picture: 88% of Idaho's counties are classified as rural, and nearly the entire state is designated as a health professional shortage area. The Association of American Medical Colleges' 2021 State Physician Workforce Report cites Idaho as having the lowest number of active physicians per capita (196 per 100,000 people). 

I am a testament to how vital Idaho WWAMI Medical Education is in addressing this gap. I am one of the many Idaho WWAMI graduates who have chosen to live and train here. Supporting graduate medical education and residency programs is critical to retaining physicians in our state. My journey, from growing up in Sandpoint to becoming an Idaho physician, is a testament to the impact of such support.

Idaho, thank you for supporting my journey and providing these opportunities. I am excited to practice here and continue to care for the community I love. 

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The views expressed in this column are Brooke Potratz's, and opinions do not reflect those of any medical or educational institution or employee. Brooke Potratz, M.D., grew up in Sandpoint and is currently a Rural Medicine Fellow at Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene.