New provider at NBHH trades nomadic life for work close to home

A new provider with an extensive background in both her profession and her life experience started work last week at North Big Horn Hospital.

Dawn Hardwick, DNP, FNP-BC, a Family Nurse Practitioner with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Utah, started Monday, Feb. 4, seeing patients at the North Big Horn Hospital Clinic.

Hardwick was born and raised on a small ranch near Shepherd, Mont., and has lived in Montana and Wyoming for most of her life. She graduated from Shepherd High School and married a “cowboy from Montana” – Buck Hardwick. The Hardwicks lived on a ranch near Meeteetse for a time when Buck worked for the ranch and as a professional farrier. He now works for Novomet, an oil field services company, out of Cody, covering the Big Horn Basin as a field service technician.

Dawn Hardwick

The Hardwicks moved to Roberts, Mont., and Dawn worked as a horse trainer in the summer and as a ski instructor in the winter teaching small children how to ski through the Ski-Wee Program.

“Horses have always been my passion,” she said.

The couple raised five sons: Bryce, Seth, Cody, Shea and Zane. Four of the five live in Wyoming and work in the oil, cattle and engineering fields. The oldest lives with his wife and three children in West Texas.

Dawn is proud to say that her second son, Seth Hardwick, is a professional bareback rider for the PRCA, representing Team Wyoming out of Ranchester, where he and his wife live.

When Dawn was around 40, Buck was transferred to Idaho and, with the boys being older, she decided to look into a new career.

“I had always wanted to go into medicine since I was a little girl,” she said. “In high school I volunteered at St. Vincent Hospital (in Billings).”

Since the family lived in the Rexburg area, Dawn decided it would be a good time to return to school, and she entered the Registered Nurse Program at BYU-Idaho and later worked in Idaho Falls and Rexburg as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit RN taking care of preemie babies.

“This was the love of my nursing career,” she said, adding that she also worked in labor and delivery and in hospital pediatrics in Idaho and in Laramie.

During this time of her life, she discovered a passion for volunteer service, working in the Tongan Islands with a professor and colleagues to perform medical service work.

A desire to advance her nursing knowledge led Dawn to pursue a doctorate program, and she was accepted at the University of Utah in Salt Lake, where she earned her DNP degree as a family nurse practitioner. She traveled back and forth from Salt Lake to northern Colorado, where Buck had been transferred.

“While in Colorado and completing my doctorate degree, I was able to couple my passion for horses with my love of health care by working in a therapeutic equestrian facility, where I worked with autistic children and other special needs children and adults in horse riding and engaging with horses in order to heighten their sensory perceptions to help with coping and functional skills,” she said.

Volunteer service

After her graduation from the doctoral program, Hardwick volunteered as a nurse practitioner in Guatemala for three months, working in a free medical clinic and “attempting to learn the Spanish language.” There, she was able to conquer the highest peak in Central America, climbing the volcano Volcan Tajulmulco, nearly 14,000 feet in elevation.

Upon her return, she worked for a large community family health center clinic system in Colorado but became restless, she said, and felt the need to continue her work taking care of patients in areas that lack access to healthcare. She began working for a company that contracted nurse practitioners to work in remote regions. The Hardwicks sold their home, bought an RV and traveled to areas in need of health care providers.

That work took her to Browning, Mont., and a contract with the Blackfeet Native American Tribe to assist in the opening of a pediatric school-based clinic for local Native children. She helped screen 1,200 school children for diabetes, she said.

“As a DNP, one of my goals has been to find gaps in care and discover what kind of programs can be implemented to close gaps in coverage and identify school children at risk,” she said. “We set up a way to ID kids, and it’s still in use today.

“I fell in love with the Native people there, and a piece of my heart will always exist there.”

Hardwick also worked for the Montana State Psychiatric Hospital in Warm Springs providing in-hospital medical care.

“That was also a very humbling and amazing experience,” she said. “I learned to have a greater respect for the need for mental health care in our nation, especially in our rural areas.”

Over the past 15 months Hardwick’s nomadic career has taken her to work in the remote region of Southeast Alaska, flying into the Alaskan bush to provide care in remote Native fishing villages such as Yakutat.

She has also served as a volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society working with other doctors in refugee camps in the Middle East, especially the Zaatari Camp north of Amman, Jordan, near the Syrian-Jordanian border. When there, she mainly works with mothers and children in the camp.

Hardwick said the refugee camp work may be the most important volunteer work she has performed.

“There are no words to describe working and caring for children from a war zone who have been left with irreparable physical, emotional and mental wounds and scars the rest of the world will never understand,” she said. “Mostly, these children have been left without a country to call home. There is nothing comparable to living behind a fence in a refugee camp years on end. This work is my passion.”

She said she still volunteers in the Middle East intermittently.

After about two years on the road, Buck and Dawn decided to “come back to our beloved state of Wyoming” and purchased 25 acres of land near Cowley, bringing their horses from Laramie and preparing to build their “forever home.” Buck started work with Novomet, and Dawn commuted to Alaska.

Then came a call from North Big Horn Hospital, and Dawn decided to end the long journeys to Alaska. She’ll now work at North Big Horn, spend time with her “cowboy Buck,” raise horses, ride in equestrian endurance rides, visit her boys and grandkids and take in rodeos. She has a long list of interests from quilting and family history to shooting sports, snow-machining, four-wheeling and kayaking.

Her medical interests include pediatrics including pediatric ADHD, along with adolescent health care and women’s health, as well as “general family health care across the life span.”

“I’m looking forward to working at North Big Horn Hospital as a Family Nurse Practitioner,” Hardwick said. “I have joined an incredible group of doctors, physician assistants, nurses and other medical professionals, and I look forward to meeting and serving the residents of the Big Horn Basin.

“Wyoming has always been filled with such amazing and welcoming people. We are blessed to be home here.”

Dawn Hardwick may never truly settle down, but at least she’s working close to home.

By David Peck