Guest Opinions

Idaho should continue medical school investments in Washington and Utah

Matt Womeldorff
Matt Womeldorff

In April, Matt Peters (on behalf of third-year Idaho students at the University of Washington School of Medicine) submitted a Guest Opinion describing the important issues regarding the physician shortage in Idaho, expansion of medical-student and resident-training programs in the state, and the possibility of a private, for-profit Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine. As Peters mentioned, the issues and opinions surrounding the college and its potential founding have been both complex and impassioned. As an Idaho medical student attending the University of Utah, I would like to add my sentiment to the conversation.

While completion of a 4-year allopathic (M.D.) or osteopathic (D.O.) medical program confers the title of doctor, physicians are not licensed to actually practice medicine until they complete three to seven years of additional training in their selected specialty, a process known as residency. As Peters noted, physicians generally practice within 100 miles of their residency training sites, and it is unclear whether the osteopathic college will expand residency programs in Idaho or unintentionally hinder those already in place.

Effective medical education is an apprenticeship model, wherein medical students and residents learn best with one-on-one mentoring and teaching; as the ratio of trainees to mentors increases, the quality of medical training declines. Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine’s addition of 150 students to the already limited physician resources in Idaho, without additional opportunities for residency, will compromise training of future clinicians in Idaho.

Medical education at the University of Utah and the University of Washington allows Idaho students to receive excellent training, while also providing opportunities to continue training in residency programs close to Idaho. As we move forward, it is imperative that we do not neglect the excellent opportunities already afforded to Idaho students at Utah and Washington. Washington offers tracks to make it possible for medical students to complete electives as well as third- and fourth-year clinical clerkships in Idaho at sites throughout the state. Utah also undertakes Idaho outreach, including both clinical curricular (completing the full family medicine clerkship in Idaho) and extracurricular (Idaho Rural Outreach Program) opportunities for its Idaho students to continue networking in their home state.

Training the future physicians of Idaho at these nationally regarded institutions has proved to be a sound investment for our state: 75 percent of all Washington graduates have practiced in Idaho at some point in their career. Furthermore, 51 percent of Idaho’s University of Washington graduates have returned to practice in Idaho since the program started.

Currently, 290 Utah physician alumni are practicing throughout the state of Idaho with most specialties represented. Over 33 percent of these physicians practice in primary care (pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine). As we think about the future of medical education in Idaho, continued investment in the invaluable relationships Idaho has made with the University of Washington and University of Utah is vital for training the next generation of Idaho physicians.

Matt Womeldorff is a native of Coeur d’Alene and a fourth-year medical student at the University of Utah School of Medicine. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the University of Utah School of Medicine.