One physician’s impact on the Port Angeles community and Family Medicine education

Port Angeles is a nestled on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula along the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Three hours from Seattle, miles from everywhere. Port Angeles is home to the North Olympia Healthcare Network (NOHN), a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC), and esteemed clinician and educator, Dr. Rob Epstein, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW School of Medicine (UWSOM).

Rob is a UWSOM graduate who completed his family medicine residency in Spokane. He has spent decades practicing family medicine in Port Angeles and is an integrated part of the community. Rob made it his mission to build a sustainable base of primary care and learned early on that building a training center was the key to this work. Starting with early involvement with medical student training Rob grew his vision to include a residency training program imbedded in the FQHC he worked. With great effort, he recruited support from the community, the local hospital, and his practice partners, and started the arduous task of building a teaching program — and a teaching program he built.

NOHN Port Angeles has become an education hub for residents, medical students, allied health practitioner students, and medical assistant trainees. It is home to the Swedish Port Angeles Rural Training Track program, a partnership with Swedish Cherry Hill Family Medicine Residency and Olympic Medical Center, and the University of Washington School of Medicine WWAMI Rural Integrated Training Experience program (WRITE), which trains selected medical students in their third-year clinical phase of medical school, and 4th year Sub-I medical students. Rob leads these training programs as the Port Angeles Rural Program Director, and most deservedly, recognized this past year for his contributions to education as the recipient of the “Educator of the Year” by the Washington Academy of Physicians (WAFP), a high honor few receive, for excellence in teaching, development of innovative teaching models, and/or implementation of outstanding education programs. Above all, Rob loves working with the students and residents, and they love working with him.

Dr. Langa standing next to Dr. EpsteinI recently had the pleasure of meeting one of Rob’s family medicine residents, Dr. Melanie “Mel” Langa, 2022 UWSOM Alumni, seen at right with Rob. Dr. Langa is a high energy, dynamic family doc in-training who is deeply committed to practicing rural medicine. Mel is currently a 2nd year resident training with Rob and colleagues at NOHN Port Angeles through the Swedish Cherry Hill RTT program.

Mel grew up rural in Anishinaabe land in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She did her undergraduate work at Stanford before moving to Seattle for medical school. In her 3rd year she chose to do the WWAMI WRITE program in rural Montana, and completed the Indian Health and Underserved Health Pathways where she spearheaded advocacy projects aimed at improving the medical student experience. But it was her 4th year Sub I rotation led by Dr. Epstein in Port Angeles that really hooked her to rural medicine. The educational environment with its collection of faculty mentors thriving in the practice of full scope care grabbed her. She could see her pathway to rural medicine, and it was through the Port Angeles community.

As highlighted by Dr. Langa, young docs are choosing to move to Port Angeles because of the sustainable practice environment with its critical mass of full scope care. In part, it is the learning environment that makes it sustainable, and a joy to practice.

Dr. Epstein’s impact is clear. He and colleagues are educating the next generation of Family Physicians to be well-prepared to practice compassionate, high-quality, full-spectrum primary care in rural and underserved areas. As Rob plans his retirement over the coming year, please join me in thanking him for his immeasurable commitment to community-based medical education, and for making a difference in the health of our communities for generations to come.

Devin Sawyer, MD

Assistant Clinical Dean, WWAMI Western Washington Region

Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine

University of Washington School of Medicine