The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Brandon Cline
Managing Editor 

Ex-Lind High School student returns home to share story of perseverance and passion

Tim Woodiwiss dropped out of LHS at the age of 14; now, he's about to graduate from medical school


Journal photo by Brandon Cline

Woodiwiss, ex-LHS student and soon-to-be UW School of Medicine grad, gives a keynote address to LRHS and LRMS students as part of National Prevention Week on May 16. Woodiwiss dropped out of high school when he was 14.

A former Lind High School student shared his story to LRMS and LRHS students on May 16, and if nothing else asked them to take away this one simple concept: imagine the unimaginable for yourself.

Tim Woodiwiss dropped out of Lind High School in 2001 at the age of 14, opting to enter the workforce at the McDonald's in Ritzville. Tomorrow, Woodiwiss graduates from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Next month, he begins a _-year residency as a physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

Woodiwiss spoke to the students as part of National Prevention Week activities at the school, which was organized by Aimee Schell, the school's nurse. Throughout the week, students participated in activities and viewed presentations geared to help them understand the risks of prescription drug misuse, underage drinking, youth marijuana use, youth tobacco and vaping use, suicide and cyber-bullying.

Reaching his potential

High school was a challenging time, Woodiwiss says. He didn't have many close friends, he was part of a family that could be best described as awkward-which is also how he described himself, socially-he was a target for bullies, struggled with his grades and, ultimately, didn't understand "the tremendous value and purpose of an education."

So Woodiwiss did what he thought was best for himself at the time, which was to drop-out of school and begin working full-time at the McDonald's in Ritzville. His decision came against the wishes of a lot of people, including his ag teacher, Terry Reub. Reub, who has since retired, was in attendance as Woodiwiss gave his keynote address.

At McDonald's, Woodiwiss was bringing home about $500 every two weeks. And for someone who came from a pretty poor family, "it seemed like a fortune." But the costs started piling up, whether it was for car insurance, his cell phone, buying gas or helping out his parents as much as he could. He quickly realized that there was nothing leftover at the end of the month and that he was living paycheck-to-paycheck.

"So here I was, working for nothing, right? I'm coming home at the end of the month and my bank account's empty. And that was really frustrating," Woodiwiss said.

It got even worse for Woodiwiss when his manager approached him one day and told him that he had been made aware of a law that forbids people who are under the age of 18 without a high school diploma or GED to work during school hours. The goal of the law, clearly, is to encourage students not to drop-out of school.

With his hours at McDonald's being cut back considerably, Woodiwiss began looking at different options. He landed on deciding to try and get his GED from Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. So he paid the $50 fee and, much to his surprise, he passed.

The plan was to go back to work at McDonald's after he'd gotten his GED, but the September 11 attacks had happened a few years prior and Woodiwiss made the life-altering decision to join the Washington National Guard. He received a waiver for his GED (applicants usually needed to have a high school diploma) and shipped off to Basic Training at age 18.

Woodiwiss initially believed that he'd made a terrible mistake, but would soon realize that joining the military was one of the best decisions he's made in his life. At Basic Training, Woodiwiss learned to be disciplined and how to push himself both physically and mentally. But more than anything else, it showed him that he had potential. But he realized that he couldn't do it on his own. He was able to see that improving and reaching his potential was a team effort, and it took someone pushing him and encouraging him to help him reach his goals.

On a new path

The first time Woodiwiss realized that he had a desire to help people was in 2005, when he got called up for a month to aid the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"I'm seeing a lot of people that are hurting, and I'm there to help. And that was a pretty good feeling," said Woodiwiss. "It definitely put a spark in me, like, 'ok, I want to do something else with my life.'"

And he did. Unsatisfied with his life in Ritzville, Woodiwiss quit his job at McDonald's and moved to Moses Lake, where he enrolled as a full-time student at Big Bend Community College. He initially worked nights at Home Depot to help pay for tuition and his apartment, but was "miserable" and hated sleeping during the day.

As luck would have it, he noticed a billboard advertisement one day for joining a fire station. The program allowed people to live at the fire station rent-free while undergoing firefighter training and an EMT course, and then eventually serving shifts as a firefighter. It allowed Woodiwiss to quit his night job and be better prepared for his upcoming academic career.

To say he was nervous on his first day of classes in more than five years would be an understatement. As he pulled up to the Big Bend campus on his first day, Woodiwiss distinctly remembers sitting in his car and shaking with fear, thinking that people would instantly realize that he's a high school drop-out and that he doesn't belong there.

But like he did at Basic Training, Woodiwiss got through the first day and kept going. The grades on his first assignments and exams weren't good, admittedly. But he took the advice professors left on his assignments to heart, and used their feedback to get better. Woodiwiss ended up passing all of his classes in his first quarter, thanks in part to a team effort.

After going through the firefighting program and EMT course, Woodiwiss thought he knew that he wanted to be a physician's assistant. But after an experience at a hospital where he saw first-hand the massive difference a doctor can make in a frantic situation, Woodiwiss thought to himself, 'ok, if I'm going to be a physician's assistant, why not go and be a doctor?'

With newfound determination toward a brand-new career path, Woodiwiss decided to transfer to Washington State University, where he would end up studying biochemistry. But the classes weren't the only thing Woodiwiss had to navigate. At Big Bend, his average class-size was somewhere around 20-30 students. At WSU, some of his classes had up to 300 students in them. The classes and coursework themselves were also more difficult.

There were other culture-shocks as well. At Big Bend, Woodiwiss had the structure and discipline of the fire station he lived at. In Pullman, Woodiwiss was living by himself and started making some bad decisions. He began binge-drinking and experimenting with drugs, and had gotten to a low-point about halfway into his first semester at WSU.

"I just knew I was in a really bad spot. This isn't where I wanted to be," Woodiwiss said.

He can't really remember how it happened, but he said he just simply decided to stop doing the destructive habits that were holding him back. He committed himself to succeeding academically. And it worked.

But just as he's kicking it into gear and getting on a roll, Woodiwiss receives a call from the military. He's been called up and is being sent to Iraq for a year. Even though he was disappointed about the timing of his call-up, he looks back on it as a great experience.

"That was quite the experience. I really grew up a lot there. I gained a lot of maturity, I learned a lot about fear and a lot about friendship ... it was a pretty powerful experience for me," Woodiwiss said.

Finding a passion

When Woodiwiss returned to WSU following his tour, he realized that there were a couple of things that created a deep passion and desire for him to be a doctor. One was a film that he watched called "Gifted Hands," which is based on the autobiography of neurosurgeon Ben Carson. The other was a book called "Emperor of all Maladies," which covers the history of cancer and details what cancer patients are suffering and going through.

It was after experiencing these enlightening forms of media that Woodiwiss knew that he wanted to work with cancer patients and that he wanted to deal with cancer research. But there were some detours along the way that he wasn't expecting.

The first was meeting the love of his life, Jessica. The two got married and had what they thought was a great plan moving forward: she would work while he would go to school. Fast-forward two months later and the couple are suddenly expecting their first child, all while Woodiwiss is deep into his schooling and beginning to look for medical schools to apply to.

The stress and pressure was so severe that Woodiwiss said he gained 60 pounds during that period. But he made it through this difficult time career-wise, which he credited to his wife. Through it all he gained a better understanding of what he wanted to do with his life and honed in on his passions.

Woodiwiss then got accepted into the University of Washington School of Medicine, which he calls an indescribable feeling that he'll always remember.

So there Woodiwiss is, going from high school drop-out to being accepted into the second-best primary care medical school in the country, according to U.S. News. His classmates were graduates from prestigious schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Dartmouth. And for Woodiwiss, it made him genuinely wonder if he was smart enough to be where he's at.

But just like every time he's faced self-doubt before, Woodiwiss rose to the occasion. Medical school, he says, can best be described as drinking water from a firehose. "There's so much medical knowledge and so much you have to learn, it's overwhelming. And you just get thrown into it from day one."

Woodiwiss buckled down and adapted. He learned how to be more efficient at studying and started to excel, better than many of his classmates. He crushed his first big exam, which he ultimately credits to his gradual improvement all the way from Big Bend to that point.

What followed was a period where Woodiwiss really got to sit down and figure out what kind of doctor he wanted to be. Following a job-shadow with a group of neurosurgeons that he really enjoyed, Woodiwiss realized that he wanted to be a neurosurgeon. "I never thought of myself as a surgeon. But I realized that I really like using my hands, and at the end of the day I wanted to know that I had done this surgery, and that's what I had accomplished."

Woodiwiss began reaching out and looking for mentors to help guide him along his career path. Self-doubt found its way to him again, but he conquered those fears one more time and ended up doing just fine.

He ended up applying to 71 different neurosurgeon programs across the country, and was invited to 16 of those programs, including at Georgetown University, New York University, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Washington. The process was a blast for Woodiwiss, knowing that he'd put in all of the hard work and was reaping the rewards.

Look to the future

Just two months ago, on March 15, Woodiwiss found out that he'd been accepted into neurosurgery at the University of Iowa. "It was the most amazing experience ever. I was walking on clouds for days, I'm surprised that I could even talk to other people."

Woodiwiss will be serving seven years of residency at the University of Iowa, and now he'll be the one getting paid for a change. When Woodiwiss dropped out of high school his sophomore year and began working at the Ritzville McDonald's, he was getting paid $7.50 an hour. With all of the education and skills he's developed, he'll be earning $1 million a year as a neurosurgeon.

But it's not just about the money for Woodiwiss, who says he loves neurosurgery so much that he'd do it and all of the grueling hours that come with it for much, much less money. The education and skills he's gained since dropping out of high school almost two decades ago has allowed him to pursue an occupation that gives him a deep sense of gratitude, and a feeling that he's doing something that means something to him, knowing that he's making a difference in the world.

"I want to show you that you're all here for a really amazing purpose, that there's a lot of value in [the education] you're getting here," said Woodiwiss toward the end of his speech. "Everything you do, every class you take, every club and sport you're a part of, that's contributing to your future. I wish that I understood that earlier."

He stressed the importance of students at least considering the idea of college. Never in a million years, he says, would he have considered going to college when he was in high school.

"You can't ever know until you try it. So if you're sitting here right now and going, 'I'm not going to college, you're not talking to me,' yeah, I'm talking to you," he said. "Think about it. There's money out there, there's ways to go to college, there's ways to start out at places where you can progressively work up."


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