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From Branding Iron to Stethoscope: A Rural Success Story

By Meredith Lair and Brittany Hargrove

Changing irrigation pipe, bucking bales, mending fences, and lending a hand during the busy calving season…This was the lifestyle that Nick West grew to love during his upbringing on his family’s cattle ranch on the outskirts of Imbler—a quiet agricultural community in Northeast Oregon with a population of roughly 300 residents. As a student, he also immersed himself in the local community through activities like FFA and 8-man football to take in all that the rural area had to offer before graduating from Imbler High School in 2009.

Today, Nick relies on the work ethic, grit, and heart for service that he developed in his rural community as he earns his MD from Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland. With a Bachelors of Science from Oregon State University in BioResource Research, and minors in Toxicology and Chemistry already under his belt, he will earn his doctorate in 2019. Afterwards, he hopes to attend the Cascades East Family Medicine Residency in Klamath Falls to finish his training to become a family doctor. His ultimate goal is to return to Eastern Oregon to practice full scope family medicine.

When asked why he decided to become a doctor—and a rural one at that—Nick pointed to his passion for his home community and to role models in his family. His sister Jamie Jo Haddock is a successful family nurse practitioner in Elgin, Oregon, and was named one of Grande Ronde Hospital’s Distinguished Physicians of the Year in late 2017. He added, “My grandfather was a family doctor in Cut Bank, Montana. The impact he made on this small community inspired me to pursue his profession in an attempt to emulate his service to others.” Nick elaborated, “I chose to become a doctor because I find purpose through combining my intrigue for science with my love for people. Medicine is this incredible profession where the bond between physician and patient is cemented through incredible hardships. Being able to comfort and care for those [who are] suffering is a real honor, and one that I do not take lightly.”

Aside from being a standout student, Nick has become an invaluable partner and advocate for Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (NEOAHEC) in our mission to recruit more learners who are pursuing health professions to Eastern Oregon. He said, “[Together] we set up a program called Rural Medicine Discovery where medical students spend a couple [of] days in Eastern Oregon with rural physicians, meeting with hospital administrators, and enjoying local recreational activities. It has been a real hit with medical students who did not know Eastern Oregon even existed prior to their visit.” Pedro Abdala, currently a second year medical student at OHSU and Nick’s best friend from Imbler High School, planned the Rural Medical Discovery event for his class in 2017.

“NEOAHEC has been instrumental in my own personal mission to expose medical students to Eastern Oregon,” Nick said. “It has been the primary mover and shaker in the area, making sure that medical students are placed in the best situation to have a meaningful experience. The more students who rotate in Eastern Oregon, the better the odds of having them make a career in the area.”

After being accepted to OHSU, Nick was selected to receive a Scholars for Healthy Oregon scholarship that provides full tuition for a limited number of eligible students. In return, he has agreed to practice in a rural or underserved community in Oregon following his residency. He was also selected as an AHEC Scholars Student, a designated rural track for students interested in practicing in a rural area.

“Receiving the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon Initiative (SHOI) scholarship was huge for my wife and I. It gave us the financial freedom for me to pursue a specialty without worrying about the incredible debt of medical school. I have friends in my medical school class who will graduate with a half a million dollars of debt hanging over their heads. This crushing debt changes how they view their specialty selection and whether or not to practice in an urban or rural setting.” Nick stated, “Pedro and I are both SHOI recipients and it is safe to say Eastern Oregon will get two physicians because of this generous scholarship from the State of Oregon.”

Nick continues to give back to Northeast Oregon, along with the organizations that helped him build a solid life foundation. He also loves to serve as a mentor to other rural students who are considering careers in the medical field. He recently volunteered to speak at NEOAHEC’s Health Speaker Series at Eastern Oregon University (EOU) in La Grande. This collaborative project between EOU and NEOAHEC has a goal of connecting local undergraduate students with both health professionals and graduate students who are currently pursuing health careers.

Please join us! Nick’s presentation is scheduled for 6 P.M. on Tuesday, March 6th in Huber Auditorium (Badgley Hall Room 102) on the EOU campus. Community members and high school students are also invited to the event.