Starting in 2013, the five-state WWAMI medical education program will expand with a second year of training at Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus.
The pilot program will start with 20 students in 2013 and a second group of 20 in 2014, according to two WWAMI directors who announced the change Friday in Spokane.
WWAMI is a publicly funded medical training program in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The states’ first letters give WWAMI its name. The program enrolls 220 students across the states each year.
For now, students take the first year of courses at campuses in their home state but are required to take second-year courses at the UW School of Medicine in Seattle. Students take third- and fourth-year classes in cities and towns across the five-state region.
After the four years, students begin residencies that range from three to seven years, based on the type of practice they choose.
The 2013 Spokane pilot program will be a step toward trying to expand the number of slots for Washington students and eventually providing more well-trained doctors to rural and medium-size cities across the Northwest, said Ken Roberts, the WWAMI-Spokane director and associate professor of molecular biosciences at Washington State University.
In a time of tight state budgets, the pilot program will be largely funded by contributions from Spokane and the region, said Dr. Paul Ramsey, dean of the UW School of Medicine. A group of area civic leaders has approached Spokane and regional leaders to gain financial commitments. The two-year pilot needs about $2.3 million in total community support; Empire Health Foundation has pledged $850,000, said Tom Quigley, president of Kiemle Hagood and a member of the medical school fundraising committee.
Medical student tuition will contribute roughly one-fourth of the Spokane program’s costs.
“We’ve received good support so far,” Quigley said. “People know this is an important regional project.”
Whether the Washington Legislature provides money to continue a second-year program in Spokane is uncertain, Ramsey said. The pilot, if successful, will be the basis for approaching legislators with an appeal for increased medical education funding, Ramsey said.
“By showing we can do the second year in a high-quality fashion, we hope the Legislature will grow the number of state slots (we have) in medical education, and particularly in Eastern Washington,” he said.
In turn, that should lead to an increase in the number of doctors who practice in midsize and rural areas across the five states, Ramsey added.
The WWAMI program just completed its 40th year of operation. WWAMI’s first group of 20 students who started in Spokane in 2008 just finished their fourth year, Roberts said. Of that group, four have chosen to do their residencies in Spokane.
The students will study at Washington State University’s Biomedical and Health Sciences Building under construction on the Riverpoint Campus. The $78.6 million project, expected to be finished late in 2013, will include research and teaching labs, classrooms and administrative and faculty offices for health sciences.