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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Family medicine residency program approved in Pullman

UPDATED: Mon., May 10, 2021

A new program to train future rural physicians is coming to Pullman in 2022.

After several years of planning and coordination to ensure there would be enough space at the 25-bed hospital, the Washington State University College of Medicine has received approval to host a residency program with Pullman Regional Hospital for medical students hoping to practice and learn family medicine in a rural setting.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education approved WSU and Pullman Regional’s program to bring in three first-year residents in July 2022, and three students each year after until there are nine students in the program total.

After attending medical school, future doctors apply for residencies, which can last anywhere from three to seven years depending on what they want to specialize in. For those wanting to become family physicians, a three-year residency program is the standard. The Pullman program will last three years.

Following a residency, the students will sit for their board exams, which they must pass to be licensed to practice medicine.

Some family medicine residencies have tracks or rotations based at rural hospitals, which allow students to practice in a rural region for a part of their residency but then return to a more urban setting. The new WSU residency is going to be based in Pullman at the 25-bed hospital, which Jonathan Espenschied, dean of graduate medical education at WSU, said is not common.

“What makes this program unique is that we will try to develop that experience all within the rural community at the critical access hospital,” he said. “They will learn what it’s like to be in that community and train in that community for all three years.”

The goal of the program is to recruit and keep physicians who want to work in rural or underserved regions to the area, although they might not all come from Washington. At the end of medical school, students go through a match process with residency programs, ranking their favorites, while programs rank their favorite students. On Match Day in March, students receive their “match”: their highest ranked program that wanted them too.

So while Pullman might not just get Washington State students in its program, it will likely draw students seeking out rural medicine programs .

“This type of program will ideally help feed local critical access hospitals in the eastern Washington region and communities that need doctors,” Espenschied said.

Recent graduates from the WSU College of Medicine are going into rural programs, he added, pointing to the college’s emphasis on training primary care physicians who are willing to work in rural regions.

In order to be approved for the program, Pullman Regional Hospital is building new clinical space for a primary care clinic that students will see patients in alongside local physicians and professionals at the hospital.

The Pullman program is the second residency program that the WSU Medical School has sponsored so far. The first program approved is in Everett at Providence Regional Medical Center, a residency for internal medicine.

Espenschied said that medical students are far more likely to practice medicine in the regions where they are trained. The hope with establishing more residency programs, specifically in rural eastern Washington is to attract young, new talent and keep them here.

“Sometimes access to care in rural environments is really limited,” Espenschied said.

“We won’t see this improve in a year or two years, but our long-term goals are to increase access to care in these rural areas.”

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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