If it hadn’t been for some very good pizza, Dr. Amy McDowell might not have become a doctor.
McDowell, chief medical officer at Rocky Mountain PACE, is a Colorado Springs native who graduated from Pikes Peak Christian School and began her college career at UCCS, majoring in chemistry and biology.
“I never wanted to go to med school,” she said. “I wanted to play soccer for my whole life and then coach soccer. But I was a hungry soccer player, and I went to this pre-med meeting because it had a sign for free pizza.”
The meeting was an opportunity for students to get pre-accepted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in their sophomore year, by submitting their transcripts and other criteria.
“I was the first person in the college to ever meet all the criteria for pre-acceptance,” McDowell said.
Once she had graduated from UCCS and started med school, McDowell found that she enjoyed the challenges and variety that medicine presented.
“It’s very rewarding and fulfilling, because you’re genuinely helping people,” she said.
She finished medical school in 2014 and, after completing her residency in rural family medicine in Greeley in 2018, she started working as a rural hospitalist, serving communities like Brush and Sterling for a week at a time and sleeping in unused hospital rooms, then returning home.
After the birth of her third child, McDowell decided she didn’t want to be away from her newborn daughter. Her father, a counselor at PACE, let her know the organization was looking for a staff physician and encouraged her to apply.
McDowell joined PACE as a senior physician in 2019 and was named the organization’s medical director in January 2020. After taking a medical leave following the birth of her fourth child, she returned in July 2021 as chief medical officer.
Rocky Mountain PACE, which stands for Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, serves economically and medically frail older people whose health would qualify them for nursing home care.
“A lot of these people come in and they haven’t seen a doctor in many years, and their health conditions are well out of control,” McDowell said. “We work with them to get their health to the best it can be.”
Besides medical care, the organization provides a wide spectrum of services including therapy, counseling, social work, psychiatric care, transportation, housing and daycare.
“We’re almost like a family member who’s very helpful,” McDowell said. “We kind of become that for these people who don’t necessarily have it. It’s really amazing care for these people who otherwise are very marginalized.”
Providing that care became more difficult with the onset of the COVID pandemic, and McDowell was tasked with navigating restrictions and precautions, which included closing PACE’s adult day center and finding ways to provide services remotely.
Throughout her tenure, she has been instrumental in reducing the number of prescriptions PACE participants were taking, cleaning up medical coding, and increasing the number of providers and services so the older adults in the program have a better quality of life.
“We believe Dr. McDowell is the next generation of leaders within our community due to her passion and commitment to geriatrics and medicine,” said her nominator, Summer Galceran, Rocky Mountain PACE’s director of marketing and community engagement.
“She has been instrumental with her leadership during the pandemic, making sound scientific medical decisions that positively impact our older adults enrolled in Rocky Mountain PACE.”