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Juggling Medical School and Four Young Kids

Thanks to the generosity of scholarship donors and his family's support, Ian Engerbretson is on his way to becoming a rural physician in Idaho.


Ian Engerbretson, MD '24

Ian Engerbretson, MD ’24

Growing up in Moscow, Idaho, I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare. I was that weird kid who liked going to the doctor and getting shots. There was just something impressive about the medical environment, and I was enamored with any school subject related to health science.

When it came time to make a decision about college, I chose nursing because it seemed really exciting. I remember being part of a code blue at the hospital where I was a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and the nurses were running around the bed starting IVs and giving medications, and I thought, “Oh, I want to do that too.” It looked more fun than being the doctor standing at the foot of the bed trying to figure out what was wrong.

I graduated from nursing school in 2015 and worked in the ICU at Saint Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Idaho, for six years. Eventually, I became an EMT, too, because I was thinking about becoming a flight nurse. But as I became more competent as a nurse, I realized that I wanted to further develop those skills and learn how to ultimately diagnose the illness, which I think is really the crux of being a physician. I also saw firsthand how the rural communities in Idaho desperately needed more doctors.

As a husband and the father of two small children at the time, it wasn’t only my decision, though. When I came home one day, saying, “Yeah, I think I need to go to med school,” my wife just said, “Okay, let’s do it.” And she was just all aboard, which is such a blessing.

Discovering a tight-knit community

I’d always known about the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) program, and my brother-in-law was able to become a doctor through it, so once I got my prerequisites done, I applied to the University of Washington School of Medicine with the goal of coming back to Moscow to practice.

Through WWAMI, I’ve been able to go to medical school and get a great educational experience, whether I was in Spokane, Washington, Cheyenne, Wyoming or now in Seattle. I wondered at first how it’d work compared to staying in one place like most medical schools — whether that would be more consistent. But it’s been great. The school is a very tight-knit community, despite the big distances, and I’d say that my clinical instructors are very plugged in and invested in my success wherever I go.

I was also able to participate in the Rural Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP), which gives medical students the chance to work with local physicians to provide healthcare to underserved populations. I spent a month at Marimn Health, the primary care hub for the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, working alongside urgent care, internal medicine and family medicine providers there. That was a really great experience and a good chance to see again the obstacles that rural health faces in Idaho.

Learn more about WWAMI

From RUOP to TRUST, the University of Washington School of Medicine’s unique programs train providers to care for the five-state WWAMI region.

"With four kids now under the age of six, I don’t know how medical school would have been possible without scholarships. I received the Laura Moore Cunningham Endowed Scholarship for Idaho Medical Students, and I was really touched by the idea that someone created a scholarship for a student like me."

When I was working as a nurse, our hospital was a catchall for patients from rural areas. It was challenging to discharge people to environments where you knew they wouldn’t have consistent access to follow-ups because even primary care was too far away, which could impact their health outcomes. But they want to live in rural areas, which I understand because I’m not a city boy, either.

Which is why my wife and I want to go back to Moscow. We just love the community, the small-town feel of being connected with everyone, and I’m excited about the prospect of building long-term relationships with patients and having a big impact on their lives.

Scholarships make dreams come true

With four kids now under the age of six, I don’t know how medical school would have been possible without scholarships. They’ve been a godsend. I received the Laura Moore Cunningham Endowed Scholarship for Idaho Medical Students, and I was really touched by the idea that someone created a scholarship for a student like me.

Scholarships have helped me offset the cost of things like supplemental educational materials that are so essential but can cost hundreds of dollars. I just finished my second board exam, and scholarship money was crucial in helping me get a good score. And there are unexpected things that come up — when you apply to medical school, you don’t think about travel costs, but participating in WWAMI, you travel quite a bit.

It might sound a little cliché, but a scholarship donor really is making someone’s dream come true. Restarting my career and going back to school seemed insurmountable when I first started thinking about it. My brother-in-law was very encouraging and told me not to be scared of all the “what ifs.” Taking on this kind of debt was a huge “what if.” And I think a lot of physicians choose to practice in a metropolitan area because the compensation is higher.

For a long time, I’ve dreamed about becoming a doctor in a rural area to help solve the physician shortage. My whole family and I are so grateful for the gift of scholarships, which are helping to bring this dream to fruition.

As told to Nicole Beattie


Help students like Ian forge their path in medicine, and give back to their rural communities, by making a gift to the UW Medicine Scholarship Fund.