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Coco Wham standing by ambulance

Coco Wham Honored With National Outstanding Medical Student Award From American College of Emergency Physicians and Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association

The fourth-year medical student will continue her training with an emergency medicine residency at Denver Health.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on March 18, 2024

While many of the seniors in her high school class were thinking about graduation and final exams and what they were going to do during the summer before they went to college, Coco Wham was finishing her certification to become an EMT.

“I have an uncle who’s a veterinarian, and growing up, I was certain I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I went to work with him,” says Wham, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “He worked at an animal shelter, and I would go to the animal shelter with him. I helped him with his surgeries, and that empowered me to pursue medicine. Somewhere along the way, my medical interest changed from animals to people. I went to EMT school during high school, and I never looked back.”

It was the beginning of a lifelong love of emergency medicine that took Wham to a position as a paramedic at Denver Health, an instructor and adjunct tactical paramedic with the U.S. Counter Narcotics and Terrorism Operational Medical Support unit, including a deployment serving at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in 2023, and ultimately to the CU School of Medicine, where she will receive her degree in May. Completing medical school will put Wham one step closer to her dream job as an EMS medical director.

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Wham works with a patient as part of the U.S. Counter Narcotics and Terrorism Operational Medical Support unit at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in 2023.

“I need to go through emergency medicine residency and then become a board-certified doctor in emergency medicine first,” says Wham, who learned during the March 15 Match Day ceremony that she matched for residency at Denver Health. “From there, I’m hoping to do a fellowship in EMS, where you learn how to run an EMS agency. I'm incredibly passionate about mentorship within EMS and the education of EMS providers, and I want to continue to serve in that capacity as a physician.”

Award-winning scholarship

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association certainly believe in Wham’s potential — on March 9 the sister organizations awarded Wham their National Outstanding Medical Student Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional fourth-year medical students who demonstrate humanism/professionalism, leadership to medical organizations, community service, research, and academic excellence.

That honor comes on the heels of another recognition Wham received in May 2023 — Employee of the Year at the Denver Health Paramedic Division. Wham was a full-time paramedic at Denver Health prior to starting medical school; during medical school, she continued working at Denver Health on nights and weekends.

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Wham with her Employee of the Year award from Denver Health Paramedic Division.

“Being a paramedic is just so authentically human,” she says. “You're meeting your patients where they are physically — in their homes, in their cars, their cars that can be their homes —and emotionally, and you’re trying to do the best you can with very limited equipment to do diagnostics. Paramedics are the highest level of care a patient can get in the field, and my training and my decisions and ability to execute on those can potentially determine if they get to the hospital and if they survive."

Balancing act

Wham has always managed to balance her emergency medicine work with advancing her education. As an undergrad at CU Boulder — where she majored in integrative physiology and minored in leadership studies — she worked nights and weekends as a trauma technician in a hospital emergency room. After graduating college, Wham went back to school for her paramedic certification and started working at Denver Health, first as an EMT then as a paramedic. She continued working there while she earned a master’s degree in integrated sciences, with a focus in biology and chemistry, from CU Denver.

As a medical student at the CU School of Medicine, Wham has conducted research in the field of emergency medicine, worked on emergency medicine rotations at the Los Angeles General Medical Center, encountered the world of rural medicine as a volunteer paramedic and firefighter in Byers, Colorado, and encountered some of her paramedic colleagues as they delivered her patients during her ER rotations at both Denver Health and at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. As she looks forward toward her residency at Denver Health, she talks about the type of provider she wants to be and the commitment she has to continue to learn on the job.


Wham during her firefighter training in Byers, Colorado.

“I want to be a really good doctor,” she says. “I want to be a good patient advocate, I want to be an excellent clinician, and I want to be able to connect my patients with resources and have the capacity to go the extra mile for them. They say there’s a difference between a resident who reads five minutes a day and one that doesn’t, and the promise that I make to everyone who has gotten me to this point — every paramedic, every EMT, every doctor, every nurse, every maintenance worker, even Mike, the guy that makes the stir fry at Denver Health — is that I will be the resident who reads five minutes a day. I need to pay it back to everyone who has supported me through this, and I will be the best doctor that I can be for them.”

Topics: Community, Students