Idaho WWAMI graduate returns to Magic Valley for medical residency

The past three months have been hectic, but in the best way, for Demsie Marie Butler.

Here’s a sampling of great things the native of Bliss, Idaho, accomplished since March.

  • • She graduated from medical school, took the Hippocratic Oath, and became a doctor
  • • She learned where she was matched for her three-year medical residency
  • • She bought a house
  • • She started her medical residency on June 13

Those major life and career moments would be special under any circumstance, but for Butler, returning to the Magic Valley is the Hollywood ending that the fifth-generation Idahoan wanted.

Demsie Marie Butler with her parents and one of her brothers after her white coat ceremony at the University of Idaho.

“I was and am super excited, she said. This is such a great thing.”

Prior to all this good news, Butler received a scholarship from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. The scholarships are awarded to medical students from Idaho enrolled in the WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho who want to practice medicine in rural Idaho. The program is a five-state partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

The Idaho WWAMI program allows 40 students each year — all of whom call the Gem State home — to attend their first two years of medical school at the University of Idaho. During the clinical phase of their education, students can complete almost all required clerkships across sites in Idaho or anywhere within the WWAMI region.

Butler was assigned to do a clinical clerkship in Twin Falls and Jerome, which is less than an hour from her family’s ranch just north of Bliss.

During those rotations, she enjoyed working with St. Luke’s Health System physicians James Irwin and Catherine Doyle, so when it came time to apply for medical residencies, she ranked the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho-Magic Valley as her top choice.

And on March 18 — this year’s Match Day — she learned the feeling was mutual. Butler will spend at least three years working in the same facilities with the same doctors and staff.

Demsie Marie Butler, right, poses with her Idaho WWAMI classmates at their white coat ceremony.

“It feels fulfilling to be able to come back to this community,” Butler said. “I kept thinking and talking about how I really wanted to help and be here, and now that it’s actually happening, is just cool.”

The match made history, too. She became the first medical student in the United States to participate in a longitudinal clerkship located at a residency Rural Training Track site who went on to match for residency at the same site.

Pretty amazing, especially when medical school wasn’t always her goal. Butler majored in biology and chemistry at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, then returned to Bliss after graduation. The secondary school needed a science teacher, so that became her first job of out of college. It was one way to give back to the community she cherishes.

Like many Idahoans, Demsie Marie Butler has a love of the outdoors.

“My parents’ examples of giving back to the community instilled a desire for me to contribute and make a difference in my community,” Butler said. “The great thing about a rural community is everyone is willing to help one another.”

Rural communities also face unique challenges. One of them is access to healthcare. Butler, who is a self-professed lifelong learner, decided medical school was another way to give back. In the Idaho WWAMI Medical Education program, she split her first two years between Moscow and Jerome while specializing in rural family medicine. During her second two years of medical school, she also did rotations in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska and Montana.

But her time in the Magic Valley stuck with her.

“Dr. Doyle and Dr. Irwin were very influential early in my career,” Butler said. “They have made a great impact on me just by seeing how much they care about their patients. There was one patient who traveled more than 200 miles just to see them.”

The St. Luke’s doctors are excited to have Butler back.

“I am extremely excited to see Demsie Butler match with the Magic Valley Rural Training Program — she is the perfect doctor for our program,” Dr. Irwin said. “We are dedicated to training family physicians for practice in rural areas, and in particular, Southern Idaho.

“Demsie understands our Southern Idaho culture. Idaho is incredibly short on rural family physicians, so Demsie will help fill a huge care need. I look forward to working with her as a colleague.”

It’s all about of giving back.

“My community has made a large impact on my life and is part of why I want to come back and serve in a rural community,” she said. “I am passionate about advocating for the health of rural underserved communities.”