WWAMI: Idaho's Medical School

Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho is one of four western states without a medical school. So, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska and Montana have partnered with the University of Washington School of Medicine to provide in-state tuition rates for out-of-state medical students.

The program -- known today as WWAMI (sounds like whammy) -- was created in 1971. Wyoming joined in 1996.

According to the WWAMI webpage, these are the programs' five goals:

  1. Provide publicly supported medical education.
  2. Increase the number of primary-care physicians and correct the maldistribution of physicians.
  3. Provide community-based medical education.
  4. Expand graduate medical education and continuing medical education.
  5. Provide all of these in a cost-effective manner.

The state of Idaho subsidizes the cost of attending the University of Washington for 20 medical students per year.  Idaho pays about $50,000 per seat, per year, leaving the student to pay just in-state tuition and fees.

Here's a look at the number of WWAMI seats Idaho has had over time:

The state also pays for a similar program with the University of Utah School of Medicine.  There, Idaho subsidizes the cost of tuition for eight medical students per year.

In fiscal year 2013, Idaho committed $3,986,900 to the WWAMI program and $1,257,200 to the University of Utah.

Courtesy Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine

Since we learned recently that a for-profit medical school will be built in Meridian, we’ve also heard criticism that it won't help solve Idaho’s doctor shortage. Much of that criticism is about the lack of residency positions in Idaho. Critics argue doctors don’t practice where they go to medical school, but where they do their residency. Idaho only has 41 spots for residents and competition is already stiff.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

We learned last week that the state of Idaho has struck a deal with a group of investors who want to build a for-profit, osteopathic medical school on Idaho State University’s Meridian campus. When he made the announcement, Idaho Governor Butch Otter said the school would go a long way in solving Idaho’s doctor shortage.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

We learned last week that Idaho could get its first medical school two years from now. But the announcement that it would be a school of osteopathic medicine left a lot of people wondering just what that is. Everybody knows what an M.D. is. But you may not know that an M.D. has a degree in allopathic medicine. Someone with a degree in osteopathic medicine is a D.O.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

The State Board of Education has unanimously approved an agreement to build Idaho's first private medical school during its Thursday meeting.

According to the board's agenda, an investor group out of New Mexico has identified Idaho State University's Meridian campus as a future location for a private osteopathic medical school.

The investors, known as the Burrell Group, want to affiliate with a public university to build a private medical school.

The Burrell Group previously considered Montana as a possible location, but those discussions fell through in December.

Monash University / Flickr Creative Commons

Regional medical school administrators are requesting more money to expand the number of seats for Idaho in a regional program that educates medical students.

Mary Barinaga, an assistant dean with the University of Washington, says they need an additional $278,900 to add five additional Idaho seats in WWAMI — the partnership between Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho and the University of Washington.

The request would fulfill a 2009 plan to increase the number of Idaho students to 40 per class.

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.

Washington State University

Washington State University's Board of Regents unanimously approved a plan Friday to establish a medical school in Spokane. It has the potential to generate 120 new doctors every year in the Northwest, but the move also tees up a fight between Washington's two largest public universities.

The University of Washington in Seattle is currently the state's only public medical school and it serves as the main destination for med students in a five-state area including Idaho.

A new report shows Washington State University is ready for a full-fledged medical school in Spokane. It would be one of the biggest educational ventures the school has seen in decades.

Consultants from MGT of America, contracted by WSU, gave this report to the school’s board of regents: WSU is well positioned to develop an accredited medical school in the near future. The group says WSU could seek accreditation in Fall 2015, and have its charter class in 2017.

Charles Williams / Flickr Creative Commons

The practice of doctors treating patients over the phone, online or by videoconferencing is a growing subset of the health care system.

The Idaho Legislature passed a bill this year calling for stakeholders to set state standards for the practice of telemedicine. Lawmakers see telemedicine as an option to bring health care to sparsely populated rural areas and address a severe doctor shortage in the state.

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.

Dentist
Defence Images / Flickr Creative Commons

Oregon and Idaho need more dentists. That's according to a new study out Tuesday from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It puts Oregon and Idaho among the top 10 states with the worst shortages.

Unless you live in a rural area, you probably haven't felt the dearth of dentists found in the Pew study. As Portland dentist Jill Price puts it, the problem isn't so much a shortage as poor distribution.

“And we need to find ways to move people into the outlying areas," Price says.

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.

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