Winifred, Mont., was a long way from anywhere, and growing up there Heather Heggem understood the unique needs of a rural community.
Folks there need access to quality health care just like anybody else. And so, when it came time for college, Heggem left Winifred for Billings and studied to become a physician assistant at Rocky Mountain College.
Earlier this week, she was named the new director of Rocky’s physician assistant program. She’s been the interim director since January, when she took over for the previous director, Bob Wilmouth.
“He did such a wonderful job with the PA program, they made him (college) president,” Heggem said.
She knows she has big scrubs to fill — Wilmouth, who had been director since 2008, ran an amazing program, she said.
“Our core values were set in place when I got here,” she said.
Her goal is to keep the program running efficiently and effectively.
“We just have to keep getting better every day,” she said.
Drawing on her experience of growing up in Winifred, Heggem knows physician assistants can bring a level of care and medical professionalism to the distant reaches of rural Montana. But she knows the profession is also a great fit for people in town, too.
Heggem graduated a decade ago from Rocky’s PA program and was assistant director of the PA program under Wilmouth. Before that, she worked as a physician assistant in cardiology in Billings.
“Cardiology uses physician assistants well,” Heggem said.
The program at Rocky focuses primarily on teaching students professionalism and strict safety in the medical field as they learn the biology, physiology and anatomy required for the job. Heggem wants the students who graduate from the program to have learned compassion and hard work.
Support from the medical community in Billings is strong.
They’ve “really embraced our little program,” Heggem said. “They help us educate our students.”
The community at Rocky feels small and intimate and that’s a good thing, Heggem said. The smaller scope of the college gives faculty and staff the ability to focus more on the student.
“We educate the whole person here,” she said.
She likes being back at Rocky and enjoys watching the students grow and mature and they move through school.
Her experience at the college as a student was immensely satisfying and enjoyable. She’s happy to be back and be a part of the faculty.
“I can’t seem to get away from Rocky,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a special place. I love it.”