When they were young, Donald R. Chisholm’s four children had a movie they liked to watch together. It wasn’t Disney, or a holiday special. It was a video of the C-section birth of the two youngest siblings, twins Hillary and Sarah.

“It was our favorite movie — the gory, bloody delivery of my sisters,” says Alison, the oldest, with a laugh. “It was definitely a different kind of family experience.”

At the time, the four children — the three girls, plus one son, Tyler — didn’t think much about it. It was simply part of their family’s culture. Their father, a 1979 graduate of the UW School of Medicine, is a respected family medicine physician in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Their mother, Robin, a former pre-med student herself, grew up with a physician as a father, and taught high-school biology and chemistry. The kids occasionally accompanied their dad on rounds and frequently ate dinner in the hospital cafeteria.

People often stopped them on the street to praise their dad. “We grew up believing that medicine would be a great thing to go into,” says Hillary. “Our father was clearly making a difference in the lives of the people around us.”

And one by one, they all decided to become doctors. With their father and grandfather as models and a shared interest in working with underserved populations, the choice of attending the UW School of Medicine — through the WWAMI program in Idaho — wasn’t difficult.

“I knew I wanted to return to Idaho and work in a rural area, so WWAMI was ideal,” says Alison. She recently started practicing ophthalmology in Coeur d’Alene. “WWAMI gives you grounding in real-life medicine rather than an ivory-tower experience.”

Although Don wasn’t part of the WWAMI-Idaho contingent, he’s pleased that his children have had that experience. “Clinical rotations [through WWAMI] give you critical exposure in the clinic, the operating room and other areas of training,” he says.

There’s a huge need for qualified, dedicated doctors in the WWAMI region — and the Chisholm family is helping meet it. Siblings Tyler Chisholm, M.D. ’09, Hillary Chisholm, fourth-year medical student, Alison Chisholm Granier, M.D. ’06, and Sarah Chisholm, M.D. ’11, were all members of WWAMI-Idaho classes. Their father, Donald Chisholm, M.D. ’79, also graduated from the UW School of Medicine.

All in the family

It’s likely that most, maybe all, of the four Chisholm siblings will return to the WWAMI region to practice. Tyler is in his third year of family medicine residency in San Francisco. He plans to return to the region with his wife, Megan Mendoza, M.D. ’09, another WWAMI graduate. They’d like to practice in a locale with a Spanish-speaking population, such as Yakima.

Sarah is completing an ob/gyn residency in Denver and plans to return to the Northwest to practice. Hillary, in her fourth year of medical school, wants to focus at least part of her practice on underserved communities. Alison, in addition to working in Coeur d’Alene, has done medical mission trips to Central America.

Don says, “Our hope is that all our kids will be in places where we can see them on a more regular basis. And we’d like to see excellent medical care in our community.”

Returning to Alaska

Much further north in the WWAMI region, another family is starting a medical legacy of its own. Jean Tsigonis, M.D. ’78, is a family physician in Fairbanks, Alaska, and a mother of five. Abe Tsigonis, M.D. ’11, her oldest, is in his first year of general surgery residency in Wisconsin. Another child, Elizabeth, is going to medical school in California.

Like the Chisholm kids, Abe understood early on the special role his mother held in the community. “I saw my mom as a do-everything kind of person. Everyone knew her,” he says.

The kids also experienced Jean’s clinical work firsthand by traveling with their parents on medical missions to the Philippines, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, among other places. They often helped with simple tasks, such as bandaging and wound care.

Like his mother before him, Abe spent his first year at the Alaska WWAMI site. Attending classes in Anchorage in his first year, he says, “it was small enough that they let me bring my dog to the classroom.”

He also enjoyed the close relationships he developed with his teachers at clinical rotations in Alaska, where there were no residents and few other medical students. “On my surgery rotation it was just the doctor and me,” Abe says. “On my Fairbanks ob/gyn rotation, I actually got to work with my mom for a few deliveries.”

Abe has since married a WWAMIAlaska classmate, Katrin Tsigonis, M.D. ’11, also a first-year resident. The couple fully intends to return to their home state to practice. “It’s a place where you really get to influence the medical culture and can make a difference,” Abe says. “And there is a huge need for doctors.”

“I’m excited about Abe’s choice,” says Jean. “He’ll come back to Alaska, which is exactly what we need. It is critical for us to bring doctors back here.”

By Elisa Murray

Abe M. Tsigonis, M.D. ’11, and his mother, Jean M. Tsigonis, M.D. ’78, work together on a delivery during one of his rotations in Alaska.