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Many of us lucky enough to call Idaho home feel like we are living the dream. But it wasn’t always so easy for me. I shared my story of a poor rural Idaho kid becoming a doctor with Idaho legislators earlier this week at a reception hosted by Idaho WWAMI, the 48-year medical school that allowed me to affordably study medicine in Moscow.

I was raised by a single mom who didn’t finish high school. We often found ourselves moved from one small town to the next across the western Treasure Valley. If you’d have told me I’d grow up to become a doctor, I would have laughed. I had no clue how people became doctors. I assumed it was something you were born into.

My mom and I were living in Fruitland by the time I got to high school. I was a typical student, mostly studying girls and sports. When my mom decided to move away again during my sophomore year, I chose to stay. Thankfully, I had good friends who came from good families who took me in. Through their help and by working part-time bagging groceries, I graduated. Since I didn’t know how one attended, let alone paid for college, I joined the Marine Corps, where I served four years.

When I returned, I enrolled at Treasure Valley Community College. I discovered the work ethic of the Marines and growing up in rural Idaho translated well for college. I also worked part time in Fruitland at Heart ‘n Home Hospice which was owned and operated by Cindy Lee and her family, who had taken me in during high school. I soon discovered that I had a real passion for caring for others, especially those nearing life’s end. Through college and with help from mentors, I applied to medical school, 20 of them in fact. When Idaho WWAMI accepted me, there was no hesitation.

Idaho WWAMI’s partnership with the University of Washington’s number-one ranked rural medicine program allowed me to access in-state tuition and do most of my training in Idaho. Through medical school, I developed a passion for a “cradle-to-grave” approach to caring for patients, families, and the community. I joined Idaho WWAMI’s “Underserved Pathway” — a four-year voluntary program of additional study focused on topics relating to the care of the underserved, health disparities, and community medicine. While training in the Magic Valley I worked with the local public health department to implement strategies to encourage childhood vaccinations, and also did clinical rotations in the operating room and at a nonprofit clinic.

After graduating medical school, I was accepted into the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho. Many of my classmates had hoped they’d get one of Idaho’s coveted residency slots, but sadly, there are not enough placements to meet the needs of our state and many had to go elsewhere. Idaho ranks 49th for the number of primary care physicians. This problem won’t solve itself. Data shows doctors take jobs where they train and do residency. My hope is that the Idaho Legislature will continue to work to create more spaces so we can meet the need for more family doctors in Idaho’s rural communities.

Today, I’m working once again at the family business that believed in me way back as a nervous 22-year-old freshman at TVCC. I work with Heart ‘n Home patients across all of the Treasure Valley. My passion is making sure patients and families in the communities where I grew up get the quality care they need at end-of-life—a passion I might never have realized without my time at Idaho WWAMI. I’m so grateful for the Idaho Legislature’s steadfast support for this life-changing opportunity for Idaho kids like me.

Billy Galligar, MD, is the hospice physician at Heart ‘n’ Home Hospice’s Meridian and Caldwell locations. He’s a graduate of Idaho WWAMI and completed a fellowship in Hospice and Palliative care through University of California-San Diego and Scripps Health.

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