Like Father, Like Son (and Grandson)
Bill Thurston did not set out to be a doctor like his father and grandfather. Now, he’s proud of that shared connection.
“Dad never pushed me toward medicine,” Bill said. “But when I started to give it serious consideration, he told me ‘If it’s something you want to do, it’s a very fulfilling career.’”
Bill’s grandfather, Walter Dyce Thurston, M.D., practiced family medicine in St. Maries for 40 years. His father, Rick Thurston, M.D., retired from medicine in his hometown of St. Maries in 2018 after 27 years.
The Path to Idaho WWAMI
Bill and his father not only share genetics and careers as doctors, they share alma maters, as well. Both have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho – ‘13 and ’74, respectively – and as of May 2021, both have earned their M.D. through the WWAMI Medical Education Program at U of I.
Idaho WWAMI is a unique partnership between U of I and the University of Washington School of Medicine. In existence for nearly 50 years, WWAMI serves a five-state region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) and provides residents of those states the opportunity to attend one of the best medical schools in the country for in-state tuition. Students attend their first two years of Idaho WWAMI at the University of Idaho, followed by clerkships that can almost all be completed in communities across the Gem State.
“When I got accepted to medical school, I was actually living in Moscow across from the WWAMI facility,” Bill said. “It was pretty cool to look out my window and see my future medical school right there in front of me.”
Doctor Demand in Idaho
WWAMI places special emphasis on the healthcare needs of rural and underserved communities.
“WWAMI’s mission has always been to increase the number of small-town rural physicians,” Dr. Thurston said. “Right now, the demand is outstripping the supply, and Idaho WWAMI is more important than ever for the state.”
That’s because Idaho ranks last in physicians per capita. Compounding this, Idaho has been the fastest-growing state for three years running, and many of the Gem State’s healthcare professionals are nearing retirement. Idaho WWAMI keeps the physician pipeline intact by training 40 of Idaho’s best and brightest students every year right in their home state.
“Through some of my WWAMI clerkships, I’ve seen patients in St. Maries who were cared for by both my father and grandfather,” Bill said. “I didn’t have a good idea of what dad did growing up. But now I see what he was doing firsthand, and it’s really illuminating.”
Small Town, Big Heart
In March, Bill will learn where he matched for a three-year medical residency. His fingers are crossed that it’s close to home.
“I’m like my father in that the connection to people is a fulfilling aspect of medicine, and I think that that may be more pronounced in a small town,” he said. “One of the things dad enjoys most about retirement is being able to still see his former patients at the grocery store or at church. He’ll always be a small-town doctor who wants to positively influence people’s lives and that’s been passed down to me.”
Byline: Article by Lindsay Lodis, WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho, and Sam Steffen, Project ECHO
Photo Attribution: Photos courtesy Bill Thurston
Published Date: February 2021
Double WWAMI - 2021 Idaho WWAMI Alumni Award Recipient Passes Down Physician Tradition
Rick Thurston, M.D., is the recipient of the 2021 Idaho WWAMI Alumni Award for community contributions, teaching the next generation of physicians and providing exceptional care to his patients.
“Dr. Thurston’s mission is to improve the lives and health of individuals through community involvement,” said Jeff Seegmiller, WWAMI director at U of I.
A graduate of the UW School of Medicine WWAMI Medical Education Program, he served as Benewah Community Hospital’s chief of staff for six years and emergency room medical director for over 20. He was also medical director of St. Maries Volunteer Community Clinic for 16 years and St. Maries Ambulance for 20 years.
Dr. Thurston and his wife, Karen, routinely hosted summer picnics for EMTs and their families. The two of them are also founding committee members of the St. Joe River Marathon.
Throughout his career in St. Maries, he stayed engaged with his hometown and served numerous state and national medical organizations throughout his career, including:
- the American Medical Association, member;
- the American Academy and Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, member;
- the Idaho Medical Association Board of Directors, six years, including the last year as president;
- the Blue Cross of Idaho Board of Directors, nine years;
- the Admission Committee for Idaho WWAMI, six years; and
- the Shiloh Christian Guest Ranch Board of Directors, six years.
“As I reflect back on many years of life and medical practice in St. Maries, I feel so blessed and privileged to be part of so many lives,” Dr. Thurston said. “Hopefully, I have positively touched these people and their families as much as they have touched me.”
Dr. Thurston’s son, Bill Thurston, will graduate this year from Idaho WWAMI and Rhegan McGregor, a student that Dr. Thurston mentored in St. Maries, started her medical school career with Idaho WWAMI in 2020.
“I hope to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Thurston as I pursue my education,” McGregor said. “I would like to return to a rural Idaho community, provide quality health care that is amplified by both relationships and service. Additionally, as a future physician, I want to repay the favor of mentorship to the next generation of physicians just as Dr. Thurston has.”