Fantastic, Sams!

OUWB alumnus from Class of 2016 makes his mark at Michigan Medicine

An image of Woody Sams speaking at commencement

Woody Sams, M.D., '16, was chosen as the class speaker at the 2016 commencement. (Photo by Rick Smith)

An image of Woody Sams and family on Match Day 2016

Woody Sams and family were all -- well, mostly all -- smiles on Match Day in 2016. (Photo by Rick Smith)

An image of Woody Sams working

Sams (left) and co-fellow Jordan Gray on a Cincinnati SWAT call. The EMS fellows provided tactical EMS medical direction and direct care as needed for the CPD SWAT team. (Submitted photo)


icon of a calendarOct. 7, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Andrew Dietderich

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Woodrow Sams, M.D., says it’s easy to look back and clearly see one’s journey in life, but fully acknowledges how that clarity can get murky in the moment and at especially trying times.

That’s why Sams, ’16, OUWB, says he is fortunate to have had help through those murkier times along the way.

That includes, he says, help from those at OUWB who “took me under their wing and guided me to where I am today.”

Where he is today is Ann Arbor — specifically, as an Emergency Medicine Physician at Michigan Medicine.

“Without the people at OUWB…the mentors I had, the friends and relationships…I wouldn’t be where I am,” he says. “I’m just so thankful that they set me on this trajectory that I had never anticipated for myself.”

‘This is great, I love it’

Sams grew up in a small, rural town in northeast Ohio — the kind of place where it takes an ambulance 30 minutes to arrive, or people drive a tractor to work.

With an eye on the military after high school, Sams says he “slacked off in high school” and it showed in his grades (though he performed well on standardized tests).

When he got out of the U.S. Navy, he returned to northeast Ohio where he worked as a corrections officer at a local prison at night. A co-worker told him he should join the volunteer fire department, since he would be able to respond to calls during the day. It was his first experience in a situation related to medicine.

“I was like ‘Oh man, this is great. I love it,’” he says.

His enthusiasm for the position centered largely on the fact that he would help people, many of which he knew or were members of his community.

“You could take this chaos and make it into something that wasn’t chaos and help people,” he said.

He was sent to EMT basic school and became even more enthusiastic about the field.

“I was like ‘This is the thing for me,’” he says.

Sams worked as a paramedic for several years in places like Nome, Alaska, and El Centro, California. He also attended San Diego Christian College in California, where he completed his undergrad degree.

OUWB would be part of the next exciting phase of his life.

An image of Woody Sams on the job

In this photo, Sams is transporting a patient as a flight paramedic with REACH Air Medical in El Centro, California. (Submitted photo)

‘Part of this legacy’

Sams met the woman who would become his wife, Molly, while working in Alaska.

By the time he had completed his undergraduate work in California, the two had married.

Sams says he always enjoyed being a paramedic, and that his wife encouraged him to take that enjoyment to the next level and become a doctor.

He started applying to medical schools in the Midwest region, where he and Molly would be closer to family on both sides.

He found out he had been accepted to Dayton, Ohio’s Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine the very same morning he was interviewing at OUWB.

“I was really relaxed for interviews at OUWB because I was like ‘I’ve already got an acceptance letter, I’m in,’” he says. “(Being accepted at Wright State) helped me do better for my OUWB interview.”

Eventually, he was accepted at OUWB and decided to attend, in part because it was so close to his wife’s family in Farmington Hills.

“But I also really loved the people when I interviewed there, and Beaumont has a really rich history,” he said.

Sams said he also liked that it was a newer school. His was the second class at OUWB.

“They said they were going to be nimble and agile, and that they were going to change stuff on the fly and that I would be part of it…I would be part of this legacy of building something from the ground up,” he says. “I thought that was really cool.”

‘I felt ready’

Sams says there wasn’t exactly one moment when he realized he had made the right choice. Rather, it was an overall feeling that surfaced as time went on.

“You saw that people were really there to help you succeed,” he says. “Between the school and the hospital, there were hundreds of people to teach you, bring you up to speed, and foster you along the way.”

“Everybody talks about how difficult and overwhelming medical school is, but you really don’t know it until you’re there,” he said. “But having all of these people there to help me, I knew I was in the right place.”

Sams’ mentor was Ryan Fringer, M.D., associate dean for Graduate Medical Education, OUWB, and director of Graduate Medical Education for Beaumont Health – Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe. Sams also worked closely with Robert Swor, D.O., professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

“People like that were very kind, very welcoming, and pointed me in the right direction,” he says.

One of his fondest memories is of Angela Nuzzarello, M.D., who at the time was associate dean for Student Affairs.

“I was a non-traditional student and hadn’t been in school for a long time and she really went out of her way to help me figure out what I could change and what needed to be addressed so I could get back on track,” he says. “And eventually I did. If it hadn’t been for her, who knows what would have happened?”

He would match at University of Michigan on what he calls “the most stressful day of my life.”

When commencement rolled around, Sams says it was surreal. He was chosen as the class speaker.

“I was definitely well-prepared for residency and stood out among my peers and I think that speaks to OUWB and the preparation they gave me,” he says.

‘No words’

Sams and his wife now have four children and that means that “every day is just kind of chaos and fun,” he says. They love spending time with each other — walking, camping, and traveling.

After his four-year residency at Michigan Medicine, Sams did a one-year EMS fellowship at University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.

In 2021, he was accepted into an aerospace medicine fellowship at Mayo Clinic.

The two-year program aims to develop experienced clinicians into leaders in the clinical and research domains of aerospace medicine. Only one fellow is accepted annually.  Concurrently, he applied to be part of NASA’s CHAPEA Mars simulation program and had made it to the final 12. Unfortunately, in early 2022, he had to leave the Mayo program and withdraw from the CHAPEA selection process and return home due to a family medical emergency.

In March, he began in his current role as an Emergency Medicine Physician at Michigan Medicine. Among other things, he is part of the Survival Flight team and working on tactical EMS with the Huron Valley Ambulance.

And regardless of the next phase of his life journey, Sams says he’s also always mindful of where he’s come from, including OUWB.

“There are really no words or no amount of thank you’s that I could give to OUWB that would be sufficient,” he says.

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