June 16, 2013 in Opinion

Bright future for WWAMI

Lisa J. Brown
 

The WWAMI program, offering medical education for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, was ahead of its time from its start more than 40 years ago. The idea behind WWAMI – partnering and sharing resources across the region to provide high-quality, cost-effective medical education – is fully in line with today’s national focus on offering healthcare that is state-of-the-art, high-value and controls cost. In many ways, the WWAMI program is a model for changes needed in our healthcare system. By offering outstanding, efficient and cost-effective medical education, the world-renowned program has expanded the number of physicians and other health professionals for our multi-state region. In addition, WWAMI has focused on the specific needs of Northwest communities, including a major focus on primary care.

The Spokane community has been a WWAMI partner since the UW School of Medicine (UWSOM) began the program in 1971. The first clinical teaching sites for medical students were located in Eastern Washington and Alaska. Washington State University Pullman was an original university partner. When WSU Spokane became a first-year WWAMI site in 2008, the WWAMI partnership was strengthened and the class size expanded. Now, in 2013, with the start of a pilot program to offer the second year of medical school in Spokane, the future for WWAMI, our five-state region, and especially our rural areas, is extremely bright. The WWAMI program has been especially effective in training primary care physicians for rural practice. With the growth of the WWAMI Spokane program, our goal is to expand the number of primary care physicians in Eastern and Central Washington and train more physicians in our Spokane medical centers, with the hope they will remain in the area when their training is complete.

This is a win-win – for everyone. The WSU Spokane campus has a new first-rate health sciences building designed to accommodate a medical school class size of 80 students or more, made possible by funding from the Washington Legislature. Thanks to this wonderful new facility and the commitment of WSU to health professions training, WWAMI medical students will collaborate with students from other health professions as a vital part of their education. And they will experience contemporary, active learning through an innovative approach that uses “clinical guides.” These Spokane-based clinicians with a passion for teaching will work closely with small groups of second-year students, helping them to master basic science and clinical training.

Years of hard work and commitment to the WWAMI partnership have brought us to this point. During the past year alone, hundreds of individuals from WSU and the UW have worked together: enlisting WSU scientists and hiring UWSOM clinicians to work with students; exporting the UW medical school second-year curriculum to Spokane; sharing teaching approaches and learning from one another; and recruiting first-year medical students to spend their second year in Spokane. The Spokane business community and private donors, WSU and UW have partnered to raise the needed funding that makes the pilot possible. We would not be at this point without this strong collaboration and commitment.

The start of this exciting next phase of the partnership is nearly upon us. Nineteen students made the WWAMI Spokane program their first choice for their second year of medical school – 15 of those students have just spent their first year in Spokane. Our shared goal is to grow the WWAMI Spokane program to a class size of 80 to 120 students. With the addition of the second-year program, Spokane will be the first WWAMI site to offer all four years of medical education. The new second-year program will provide outstanding training, and we look forward to the day when these students return to the Spokane community to practice medicine as full-fledged physicians.

We are committed to making the second year in Spokane permanent. The ability to do so will depend on state legislative funding as well as approval by the national medical school accreditation body. This organization will follow the progress of the pilot closely to ensure that the second-year curriculum and outcomes for students in Spokane are equivalent to what is offered in the long-standing Seattle program. We have teams of educators and evaluators in place to ensure that these outcomes occur.

The second-year pilot is an exciting, positive step forward for all the WWAMI partners involved. We offer our thanks to the many individuals, groups and educational institutions that have brought us to this point. Together, we can celebrate this new phase of the WWAMI partnership.

Lisa J. Brown, Ph.D., is chancellor of Washington State University Spokane. Dr. Paul G. Ramsey is chief executive officer of UW Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Washington.  

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