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A Heart for Rural Medicine

College of Science graduate spent undergraduate career volunteering in free clinic, hopes to pursue medical degree.

When he first met Kalyn Lewis at a pre-med student conference in Boise in 2014, Dr. Stephen Hall remembers being skeptical.

That was before the high-energy, determined undergraduate was able to demonstrate her passion, energy and dedication to the field of rural medicine as a volunteer in the Palouse Free Clinic, which Hall opened about a year and half ago.

“She quickly put me right,” Hall says. “I still smile when I think about my own preconceptions.”

Kalyn Lewis
Kalyn Lewis

Lewis, who will graduate in December from the University of Idaho’s College of Science with a degree in biology, hopes to work with Hall in the future as a student in U of I’s WWAMI training program, for which he is the associate director. WWAMI medical students often serve in the free clinic, under the supervision of local medical providers.

Lewis has always had a passion for medicine, particularly rural health. The Viola, Idaho, native grew up on her family farm and helping at her mother’s veterinary clinic. “I’ve done medical stuff all my life,” she says.

At U of I, Lewis has kept a busy schedule: A full-time student, she is graduating in three and a half years rather than the usual four, but still found time between classes to work as a laboratory assistant, volunteer at the Pullman clinic, teach swim lessons at the U of I pool and work at Paradise Creek Bicycles in downtown Moscow.

“Kalyn is an outstanding student,” says Craig McGowan, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Lewis has volunteered in McGowan’s lab, assisting with a project run by him and John Byers that is studying the difference between how athletes and non-athletes move, and whether those differences are apparent to the human eye.

“She’s very, very enthusiastic, very excited, very creative — which is really helpful in the research environment,” McGowan says. “She works hard. And she’s just a lot of fun to have around. She’s been great for the lab. She has good energy.”

Lewis hopes to eventually bring that energy and enthusiasm to the practice of rural medicine, where practitioners have to be more flexible and have a broader range of skills than doctors who work in more urban settings.

“You kind of have to be everything. You have to take care of everybody’s needs,” she says. Rural doctors may often treat entire families, developing relationships over generations. That familiarity appeals to Lewis.

“You can make somebody’s day go from the worst day of their life, to the best day of their life — just by being there,” Lewis says.

In addition to her other studies and volunteer work, Lewis was an ambassador for the College of Science. She participated in the U of I Honors Program and served on its advisory board.

While some students may find her busy schedule overwhelming, Lewis encourages everyone to get involved in some way in college — be it volunteering or working in a lab.

“Get involved in the community,” she says. “It’ll be good for you, and your growth as a person. You just kind of have to put your neck out there.”

Lewis encourages students not to be intimidated by approaching professors and asking about research opportunities. U of I is known for offering research opportunities to undergraduate students. McGowan says his lab can have up to 10 students working in it at a time. The extra hands offer opportunities for McGowan and fellow researchers to explore questions they may not have time or resources to examine otherwise.

“They enable us to do more than we otherwise would,” he says of student researchers.

“The faculty here is great,” Lewis says. “They are super willing to help you get involved in the lab. You just have to poke your way in.”

After graduating, Lewis plans to spend a year gaining more experience in the medical community and completing her application for medical school. Since she wants to study in a program for rural medicine, and is looking at WWAMI and the Targeted Rural and Underserved Track (TRUST) program, which trains students specifically to practice rural medicine.

Hall of the Palouse Free Clinic is in charge of TRUST for the first two years.

“Many students come and say they are interested in that program, but Kalyn knows what it is all about and is really interested in serving the rural and underserved,” Hall says. “She has been impressive in (the free clinic). There is no glamour. No pay. Nothing but that good feeling you get when you are serving others.”

Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing

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