His father was a pulmonologist; his mother a nurse. But growing up in a small town in Colorado, Jim Repsher, a certificated physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics, never planned a career in healthcare.
He was in love with outdoor adventure. Ski racing and river rafting consumed him. By 18, he was a professional river rafting guide.
But his high school years were undistinguished academically. “I graduated by the skin on my teeth,” says Repsher, who went on to earn a degree in history at the University of Wyoming where his academic career was equally undistinguished.
After college, he considered a job as a river guide in South Africa but passed on the opportunity. “The ski areas were hiring ski patrollers so rather than go to South Africa I joined the ski patrol. So I was river guiding in the summer, skiing all winter – and starving in between,” Repsher says.
In retrospect, his first job as a river guide started him on a path to a medical career. “I found out you got a bonus if you took EMT (emergency medical technician) training. So I became an EMT,” he says.
Work with the ski patrol led to volunteering year-round with the ambulance service. In 1993, the county paid for him to become a paramedic.
In the years that followed Repsher was accepted into the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), taught white water rafting and canoeing during the summer and did ski patrol in the winter, then did a two-year stint teaching in a outdoor paramedic training program before moving on to work for an air ambulance service.
By then, he was a man with responsibilities.
He’d met his wife, a fellow ski patrol member, in 1990. Married in 1998, they have two children.
Repsher and his family eventually moved to Ashland, Ore., where he worked for an air ambulance service. Then came his decision to try to become a physician assistant.
“I figured there was no way I was going to get in a program because my grades were so atrocious,” he says. Despite his reservations, in 2004 he applied to the program offered through the University of Washington Medical School and was accepted. “It was based on my life experience,” he says.
While he’d been accepted into the program, he hadn’t been accepted into the university because of his grades. “So they (program officials) had to get a special rider in order for me to get in,” says Repsher, who moved his family to Ellensburg and enrolled at the UW’s campus in Yakima.
He grins at what happened next: “I made them proud. I made the Presidents List every semester.” His grade point average: 4.0.
In Yakima he met Dena Mahre, now also a physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics. She recruited him to his first job in Yakima and then to a second one in Yakima. Along the way he also met Dr. Gary Bos, a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon. When Bos came to KVH Orthopedics in 2012, Repsher came with him. Mahre joined them a short time later.
Repsher, who has worked in emergency departments in addition to his work at KVH Orthopedics, still relishes outdoor adventure and skis, rafts and rides his mountain bike “all over the place.”
Working in orthopedics is “a great job” with moments of absolute joy, he says.
“We had a lady,” he offers by way of example. “She was 88. She had a horrible hip, horrible pain. She’d been living with it for years.”
He recalls the day she first came into the clinic, minutes passing like hours as she slowly made her way down the sidewalk.
The woman had a hip replacement.
“Two weeks later she comes walking down the sidewalk in no pain, carrying the walker and wanting to know if she still needed it,” he says beaming. “The thing about this job is, people get better. With my dad, people died.”