MSU medical student receives prestigious Army scholarship

Reagan Colyer
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Dillon's own

Recent Montana State University cell biology and neuroscience graduate Tessa Sawyer has been accepted into the WWAMI medical program and was recently commissioned to the US Army. MSU/Kelly Gorham photo

BOZEMAN, March 25 — A Montana State University student and future doctor received a comprehensive and competitive scholarship through the U.S. Army last month to facilitate her medical training and aspirations as a rural health care provider.

Tessa Sawyer, who completed her degree in the Cell Biology and Neuroscience Program in MSU’s College of Agriculture in the winter of 2020, will begin medical school this fall through the WWAMI Medical Education Program, a collaboration between the University of Washington’s medical school and universities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, states which don’t have medical schools of their own.

“For the WWAMI program in Montana, they take 30 students from Montana per year,” said Hilary Becker, director of Health Professions Advising at MSU. “It’s a highly competitive program because it’s the only instate option for medical school for Montana students.”

Sawyer is originally from Dillon. Her connection to her hometown and family runs deep and was part of her drive to join the armed forces at the same time as pursuing medical school. The cousin and grand daughter of veterans, she was commissioned into the U.S. Army on Feb. 23, a recipient of the Army’s highly competitive Health Professions Scholarship, of which around 300 are given nationwide each year. The scholarship will cover Sawyer’s medical school tuition for the next four years, and she will serve a total of eight years of active duty during and after her medical residency.

Sawyer was also accepted into the Targeted Rural Underserved Track, or TRUST program, which is nested under WWAMI. Before she begins her education in the fall, she will be paired with a rural community in Montana to shadow health care providers and learn more about the health needs of rural communities.

“Our state is so unique in that every community feels like home,” said Sawyer, who won’t know until later this year which Montana community she will pair with for her TRUST experience.

Through WWAMI, Sawyer will be enrolled for four semesters of medical school at MSU before finishing out her time as a student at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The latter will include 12 weeks of clinical training in the rural Montana community she partners with through TRUST as well as rotations in the WWAMI region.

“It’s pretty amazing to get into both WWAMI and the TRUST program, and then to add this scholarship through the Army is even more incredible,” said Becker. “Tessa really represents the best of MSU.”

Sawyer’s interest in medicine began in high school, where she took a number of classes de signed for students who wanted to pursue medical careers. She had originally wanted to be an engineer like her father, another MSU alum, but those classes opened her eyes to the opportunity to provide care to communities like the one she’d grown up in.

During her undergraduate studies, Sawyer engaged in job shadows at a family medicine practice in Bozeman, a traveling gynecology service in Madison County and a community health center in her hometown of Dillon. The experiences stoked her passion for both general medicine and obstetrics and gynecology, the two fields she is most excited to explore as she continues her studies. But her experience at the community clinic furthered her determination to serve rural Montanans.

“That experience was so different than any of the other places I saw,” Sawyer said. “Seeing how poverty impacts health care and how living in a rural area impacts your ability to find specialists and get the care you need was really compelling.”

For Sawyer, the preparation to enter the next phase of her life and her education has been a bit intimidating. But, she said, as she always has, she has the family and the community that drives her to lean on.

“I think this whole process has made me appreciate my support system so much more than I did before,” she said. “It still feels scary and I don’t quite know what to expect. But I feel ready to start this new chapter.”