Recent changes to the WWAMI medical education program in Idaho continue to illustrate the many ways “Idaho’s medical school” benefits the Gem State’s communities, especially in rural areas. Idaho’s medical students now spend nearly their entire academic career here, where many of them hope to complete their residencies and eventually practice as world-class doctors in the state they love.
WWAMI is a partnership with the University of Washington School of Medicine that creates affordable, community-based medical education in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. For the past 45 years, Idaho citizens have benefited from this incredible access to the No. 1 ranked medical school in the nation for rural medicine. WWAMI-Idaho helps address our doctor shortage, at a price point unheard of in other states that have to self-fund a medical school. For every $1 the Idaho Legislature invests, $5.10 returns to our state, according to a 2015 economic impact study.
Over the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the WWAMI admissions committee, and recent changes to the medical school curriculum are exciting to me because they mean Idaho students can now do almost all of their training in Idaho. As a physician mentor to these future Idaho doctors, I assist medical students through their Foundations of Clinical Medicine course during their first 18 months of schooling in Moscow through the University of Idaho.
Observing firsthand how these great young adults go from bright-eyed undergraduates to budding medical professionals is an amazing experience. The first “White Coat” ceremony under the new WWAMI curriculum took place last month and was especially significant for Idahoans who support our health care economy. In previous years, this important transition event to become a physician was held in Seattle. Now, it honors completion of the students’ time at the University of Idaho before they head out to clinical rotations around the state, exploring different communities and a variety of medical specialties.
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The reputation of the UW medical school also helps our Idaho WWAMI graduates secure high-quality, in-state residencies to continue their education here at home. This is becoming an increasingly vital point, as the numbers of medical school graduates will soon outnumber the number of residency positions. Most student physicians settle near where they do their residencies, so it’s essential to address Idaho’s doctor shortage to keep our medical school graduates here to complete residency — the final portion of the path to be a practicing physician.
All Idahoans benefit from WWAMI because it gives us an in-state medical school option with a national reputation for excellence at a fraction of the cost. Idaho’s medical educators, economic leaders and policymakers should focus on increasing the number of residency positions to accommodate the increase in graduates who complete their residency training and become licensed physicians practicing in Idaho. Let’s continue to support “Idaho’s medical school” through WWAMI.
Dr. Glenn Jefferson is a family medicine physician affiliated with Valley Medical Center in Lewiston.