April 23, 2021
WWAMI Medical Education Program student Bret Andrew von Casper has fun with his sister Samantha. Andrew advocated a Wyoming legislature bill banning insurance companies and health services from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability for organ transplants and related procedures. (Andrew family photo)
The training of future doctors encompasses more than medical training. Leadership, particularly in patient advocacy and community health education, is one of the additional skills that students of the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho (WWAMI) medical education program prioritize at the University of Wyoming.
As a freshman medical student, Casper-born Bret Andrew was well prepared to speak about health justice – a topic that is an integral part of his life, family and future role as a doctor in Wyoming.
In early April, the Wyoming House Bill 111 was signed into law by Governor Mark Gordon. This law prohibits insurance companies and health services from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in organ transplants and related procedures.
Under the Disabled Americans Act, it is federally illegal to deny organ transplants to people with intellectual or physical disabilities based solely on their intellectual status. Yet there is no way for states to enforce this law locally and hold medical institutions or individuals accountable. HB111 recognizes and codifies the equality of all Wyoming citizens on transplant lists and ensures that no one is denied a life-saving anatomical gift based on a supposedly lower quality of life.
One of the most compelling voices for the bill came from Andrew, who also stood up for his sister Samantha, who has trisomy 21 or Down syndrome.
Andrew publicly testified and reiterated the effects of the law to lawmakers, Andrew stated that intellectual disability does not mean that a person should have a poorer quality of life or that they should be denied access to health care resources.
“Standing up for my sister Sammie is one of the easiest things to do because it’s one of my favorite things to do,” says Andrew. “The bill ensures that my sister and people with similar conditions are protected from discrimination if they need an organ transplant. Sammie worked hard to establish the beautiful life she has today and she deserves the same rights to preserve that life in case it becomes medically necessary. “
The connection with UW and the College of Health Sciences runs in the family. Sammie Andrew and her mother Julie are both members of the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) Consumer Advisory Board, a division of the UW College of Health Sciences. Your work with WIND has helped raise awareness of the importance of full community and social inclusion for people with disabilities – a mission that resonates with the HB111 discussion.
The collaboration between WWAMI, WIND and other units of the College of Health Sciences creates critical interdisciplinary education for future health care providers that are vital to the state.
“The WWAMI program provides an important pipeline of excellent physicians for the state of Wyoming. Wyoming is currently ranked 43rd in the country for meeting the need for physicians,” said Tim Robinson, Wyoming director of WWAMI Medical Education Program UW Campus.
“Nearly 70 percent of WWAMI graduates return to the state to practice medicine, and these returning doctors are of the highest quality. The University of Washington Medical School was recently voted the best medical school in the country for primary and rural care. Not only does this program bring back some of the best doctors our country produces, but our program also emphasizes leadership from day one, ”says Robinson. “For Bret, taking the time to speak for this law is a testament to his dedication to medicine and his care for our great state. I couldn’t be more proud of Bret’s commitment to this important piece of legislation. “
Andrew says the legal profession will continue to be an integral part of his education and work.
“A significant part of our WWAMI curriculum encompasses the public health challenges our state is facing and how best to address those challenges,” he says. “With these opportunities and this knowledge comes the responsibility to be active in the community and to lay the foundation for a career in the service of our state. The more we can work now as students on the health of Wyoming citizens, the better off our future patients will be when we return home to practice as doctors later. “