The University of Idaho and the University of Washington School of Medicine are proud partners in WWAMI, a nationally-recognized program that educates Idaho's future doctors.
The WWAMI program, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, is a five-state partnership that provides outstanding medical education for the region.
The five states are equal partners in the program, and the sum of their parts is greater than anything any of the states could produce alone.
This unique collaboration has earned widespread recognition and has been ranked the No. 1 medical school in the country for primary-care training for 19 consecutive years. WWAMI delivers education in a distributive model: students have the option to do three out of their four years of training in Idaho, as well as gaining access to training opportunities throughout the five-state region.
Idaho began its participation in WWAMI in 1972 with 20 students per year and still has 20 students today. In these tight budget years, our state has struggled to put a financial priority on medical education with all of the other important competing priorities.
This year, we proposed an increase to 25 students per year which aligns with the State Board of Education's goal of expansion to 40 WWAMI students per year. That proposal has been successfully approved and awaits signature by the governor.
We know that we turn away excellent candidates every year that end up going out of state to more expensive medical schools. This year, we are very hopeful that we can expand WWAMI.
Why is WWAMI such a good investment for Idaho?
Our WWAMI students have the equivalent of a very reasonable instate tuition, around $28,000 a year.
We also have a much higher than average rate of return of practicing physicians to our state. The average for state public medical schools is a 41 percent return rate. WWAMI has a 50 percent return for our Idaho students, and a 73 percent return on investment when you add the students we gain from the other WWAMI states.
Our state spends around $41,000 per WWAMI student per year. This is significantly lower than the cost per student for states with their own public medical schools (approximately $115,000 per student per year).
Finally, WWAMI is designed to train students for rural and underserved care; exactly what these Western rural states need.
Getting our medical students out into Idaho communities for their training not only enhances their hands-on experience, but also increases the likelihood that they will return to similar communities to practice.
And 60 percent of the money that Idaho spends on WWAMI is spent within the state, as the students do the majority of their training within our state.
Idaho WWAMI has been an innovator for many programs that are now replicated regionally and nationally.
We are not a passive recipient of education from the University of Washington, but a very active partner providing excellent education within our state and drawing our own students home to practice as well as attracting students here from the other WWAMI states.
This is the highest quality, most cost-effective medical education possible.
We would be wise to jump at the opportunity to add five positions this year and continue adding until we have the 40 to 60 positions per year needed for our population. Please join us in supporting WWAMI expansion for the best future of medical education and health care in our state and thanking our State Board of Education, governor, and Legislature for making this happen.
Andrew L. Turner, Ph.D., is director, UI WWAMI Medical Education Program and assistant dean, UW School of Medicine; Mary Barinaga, M.D., is assistant dean for Regional Affairs, Idaho WWAMI Medical Education Program; and A. Patrice Burgess, M.D., is special assistant to the president for Medical Education and Governmental Affairs, University of Idaho.