Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho lawmakers are considering a proposal to make more room for Idaho students in a University of Washington med school program. Idaho doesn’t have its own medical school, so the state instead works through a U-W partnership known as WWAMI.

The proposal would increase the number of slots for Idaho med students from 30 to 35 next year. It could go up to 40 in two years.

For decades, rural parts of the Northwest have found it difficult to lure doctors to small towns. Community leaders in Yakima, Wash. went so far as to found a small medical school to train doctors to practice in these underserved areas.

The Pacific Northwest University opened in 2006. But there is a problem. Small towns throughout the region just don’t have enough residency programs. And that means many of these doctors-in-training may move away.

University of Idaho President Duane Nellis told state budget writers this morning that the 20 seats funded by the state in WWAMI, the cooperative medical education program with the University of Washington, are no longer enough to meet the state’s medical needs. He said Idaho needs more doctors.

“We have the lowest number of physicians, per capita, of any state in the nation,” Nellis said.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

Many states don’t have enough doctors.  As we’ve been reporting, Idaho has fewer physicians per capita than every state in the nation except Mississippi.

Washington State University

A scientist with the WWAMI program at Spokane’s WSU Riverpoint campus has received a large grant to study one question: why do humans sleep? Boise State Public Radio highlighted the WWAMI program a couple of weeks ago as it turned 40. It's a cooperation between five northwest states, including Idaho, to train doctors. But WWAMI doctors also conduct research. One of those is Jonathan Wisor . 

Ysabel Bilbao / University of Idaho

More than 500 students from Idaho have become doctors through a special medical exchange program known as WWAMI. It’s named for the five states that are part of it Washington, Wyoming,  Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. This year WWAMI celebrates its 40th birthday.  Patrice Burgess graduated from that program in 1990. Now she’s a family physician in Boise.