Katie Martin

When Dr. Katie Martin graduated from the University of Washington School of Medicine last May, Dr. Mark Larson of KVH Family Medicine– Ellensburg was watching proudly.

There was good reason.

Larson, the Washington State Family Physician of the Year for 2015, had mentored Martin in a training program that gives medical students interested in serving rural areas an extended view of what it's like.

For Martin, the program proved a perfect fit.

The third of eight children of a Baptist minister and his wife who homeschooled them until high school, she grew up in the tiny southwestern Washington town of Toledo. By seventh grade she knew she wanted to be a doctor fueled in part by a deep sense of purpose that she should "live out my faith and love of God by loving the world back – in this case through medicine," she says now.

It was a big dream for a small town girl, but Martin's parents encouraged dreaming big.

She went on to George Fox University, then enrolled at the University of Washington medical school's Targeted Rural Underserved Track (TRUST), a program that intentionally recruits students from rural areas interested in working rurally, then matches them to communities like Ellensburg and mentors like Larson.

Martin visited Ellensburg before beginning medical school, returned intermittently during her first year, then came back for six months during her third year.

She had planned on becoming a family doctor. But her experience at Kittitas Valley Healthcare would change her career path. Not so her determination to serve in a rural area.

As the lead in her training, Larson connected her with other KVH providers including Dr. Bruce Herman, Dr. John Merrill-Steskal, Dr. Krista Summers and Dr. Don Solberg, all at KVH Family Medicine – Ellensburg. "The third year you start doing your hard core practice," says Martin who spent one day each week working with each of them and the fifth day working with Dr. Jamin Feng at KVH Internal Medicine.

Her last month was spent exclusively with Larson. "What I treasured was that Dr. Larson let me see his life, what makes him happy, what the hardest part is," she says. "He impressed on me that you always treat people right. You show them the respect you would want. It validated what I feel. I learned a lot about clinical medicine but what also stands out is how important the way you treat people is."

When Martin had the opportunity to do a masters program in public health between her third and fourth year of medical school, Larson, the county's public health officer, weighed in. "He was, like, go for it," she recalls. "I was on the fence. He tipped me over."

But as much as Martin loved Larson's style of practice, it wasn't until she had the chance to practice family medicine and internal medicine "side by side" in Ellensburg that she realized how much she loves internal medicine.

Warm, outgoing, and a self-described "nerd," she's now a first year resident in internal medicine at the University of Washington who laughingly says she thinks "the nerds of medicine are in internal medicine. It's like being in nerd heaven."

Martin, who is of Cherokee descent, hopes to teach for a time in an academic setting but ultimately wants to teach and practice "in a setting where I could work with rural or native folks.

"My passion is really for changing structures through education, helping other kids get to a place where they can do anything they want to do," she says. "I'm hoping I can pave the way for other native students."