Five-state medical program looks to the future


SEATTLE – Officials at the University of Washington, Washington State University and the University of Idaho have announced a future change in the location of 20 first-year WWAMI regional medical education program medical students from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane.

WWAMI is a partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho that provides publicly supported medical education for the five-state region. The WWAMI name is derived from the first letter of the names of each of the five partner states.

UI and WSU



“Currently, we have 25 students based at University of Idaho and 20 students based at WSU Pullman,” explained Suzanne Allen, UW School of Medicine vice dean for regional affairs and head of the WWAMI program. “The two campuses are very close to one another and these 45 students train together on both campuses throughout their first year. Starting in fall 2014, pending approval from our accrediting agency, the students currently based at WSU Pullman will receive their training through the WWAMI Spokane program on the WSU Health Sciences campus instead.”

The planned change will provide an opportunity for additional expansion of the University of Idaho WWAMI program, said Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Washington. Idaho and Washington are both working to expand their physician workforces to address physician shortages in each state, and the Idaho State Legislature recently approved funding for five additional medical students starting this fall (bringing the Idaho class from 20 to 25). Idaho is planning further growth that will bring first-year classes up to 40 students.

Move to Spokane

Moving WSU’s WWAMI students to Spokane has been anticipated for some time and will now coincide with the expansion of the University of Idaho’s WWAMI class size. The gradual increase of Idaho medical students will allow for a reasonable transition period to assess possible space and capacity improvements on the Moscow campus.


“As a WWAMI partner for more than 40 years, we are pleased that WSU’s plans will dovetail with our own,” said Don Burnett, interim president of the University of Idaho. “Both universities will continue their long-standing relationship with the University of Washington, providing exceptionally high-quality medical education through a remarkably cost-effective arrangement.”

Clinical training in Pullman

Although WSU Pullman will no longer serve as a classroom site for students, it will continue to be an active site for clinical training.


“The University of Idaho/WSU relationship remains strong and the WSU Pullman faculty are committed to continuing to educate medical students in the Moscow/Pullman area,” said Elson Floyd, president of the four-campus WSU system. “This is an exciting opportunity for Idaho to expand its number of physicians and, as the WWAMI Spokane program grows, for Washington to increase its physician workforce as well.”

UW President Michael Young also voiced his strong support for the change. “The collaborations forged between key universities in the WWAMI program are a superb example of educational partnership at its best,” Young said. “This latest planned move opens the door to better addressing regional health system needs — which is what WWAMI is about.”

Easily accommodated

The 20 students to be relocated from the Pullman site to the WWAMI site in Spokane will be accommodated easily with the opening of the Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Building later this year on the WSU Health Sciences campus. Currently, the WWAMI Spokane program trains a first-year class of 20 students per year. The relocation of the 20 Pullman students to WWAMI Spokane will expand the total number of first-year students training there to 40 per year.


“We are very excited about having an additional 20 first-year students starting in 2014,” said Ken Roberts, director of the WWAMI Spokane program. “We have the faculty, facilities and programs in place and are eager to train these students.”

Second-year pilot program

In addition, WWAMI Spokane will be the site of a second-year pilot starting in fall 2013 in which up to 20 medical students per year for two years will complete their second year on the WSU Health Sciences campus. In the past, students from all of the WWAMI sites completed this training at the UW campus in Seattle.

The Legislature this year approved funding to make the pilot permanent, allowing for the enrollment of 40 first-year students and 40 second-year students within a few years.

Largest geographic program in nation

Through the WWAMI program, which began in 1971-72, the UW School of Medicine partners with the five participating states and their state universities to train the next generation of physicians for cities and rural areas throughout the region. No other medical school in the nation offers training for such a broad geographic region and no other public medical school in the nation offers training for more than one state. Through its regional offerings and innovations, WWAMI is a model for other medical schools nationwide in distributed medical education.

Rural practice in home state

The WWAMI program has resulted in very high return rates of medical students to their home states to practice medicine. Rural states traditionally have a difficult time attracting physicians to practice, but the WWAMI program has expanded the ability of the five participant states to maintain adequate numbers of physicians to care for their populations. WWAMI has been widely cited as a landmark program; as a result, the UW School of Medicine has been rated No. 1 in the nation for rural health training for 21 consecutive years and is rated No. 2 for primary care training in U.S. News & World Report rankings of professional schools. WSU was one of the founding university partners in the WWAMI system and has had first-year medical students at the Pullman campus since the beginning of the program. WWAMI Spokane became a first-year WWAMI site in 2008. The University of Idaho WWAMI site has been in operation since 1971.

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