Guest Opinions

Caring for our future: Medical education in Idaho needs scrutiny

As the third-year class of Idaho WWAMI students attending the University of Washington School of Medicine, we are incredibly grateful that Idaho has provided us access to public medical education at one of the nation’s top medical schools.

Currently, Idaho students are fortunate to have the opportunity to receive in-state tuition at both the University of Washington and the University of Utah for medical school. We are writing because we are concerned about the physician shortage in Idaho and because we support a conscientious step-wise expansion of medical student and resident training programs in Idaho.

The recent announcement of the proposed for-profit Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) appears, at face value, to be a win-win. Some Idahoans are optimistic about the potential for economic and physician workforce benefits for Idaho. However, as many concerned Idahoans, including numerous members of the medical community, have expressed in previous opinions, this issue is very complex. We would like to share the concerns of our class, which include:

▪  ICOM’s partnership with ISU developed quickly and without transparency, using confidentiality agreements and excluding Idaho’s largest physician organization, the Idaho Medical Association. Consequently, the ICOM-ISU partnership was announced before major stakeholders in the medical community could provide input.

▪  Currently, residency training in Idaho is limited to 41 highly competitive seats per year. Statistically, most physicians practice within 100 miles of their residency sites. If we want more physicians in Idaho, our first priority must be residency expansion.

▪  ICOM intends to start with 150 students per year, which will overstretch the already limited capacity of clinical training sites in Idaho and might negatively affect training opportunities for Idaho’s existing medical student, residency, physician assistant and nurse practitioner programs.

▪  In 2015, 91 Idaho residents began medical school somewhere in the U.S., with nearly half going to Utah or Washington through Idaho’s existing affiliations. While ICOM’s plan to give preference to Idaho residents seems like a benefit to our state, it’s unclear how many qualified Idaho candidates will choose to attend a new medical school with no established track record over other options.

▪  A similar proposal by this for-profit investment group was unsuccessfully attempted in Montana in 2015. Montana turned down their offer after concerned residents who wanted the best for their state raised similar questions.

Much like choosing to become a physician, starting a medical school is no small decision. We are writing out of concern for Idaho and for potential future medical students. Please critically examine this proposal, remembering that while ICOM may bring medical education to Idaho with minimal financial cost to our state, its investors’ first priority remains financial gain. For the sake of the students whose careers may be impacted by this proposal, we ask that there be more transparency and due diligence done to explore what is best for Idaho and avoid potential negative consequences for our existing Idaho programs and our state.

Matt Peters, a native of Eagle and a third-year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine, wrote this on behalf of other medical students. He plans to practice in rural Idaho.