Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho Budget Writers Approve Funding For More Medical School Seats

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Emmett, Idaho resident Rebecca Smither (left) talks with Dr. Jennifer Petrie (right). Petrie is a graduate of the WWAMI program and now practices in Emmett.

The Legislature’s main budget panel has approved funding for five additional medical school seats in the WWAMI program, according to the Spokesman-Review’s Eye on Boise blog.

The WWAMI acronym represents the five western states that send medical school students to the University of Washington on state-sponsored reduced tuition. Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho don’t have their own med schools, and since the 1970s they’ve been in this partnership with the University of Washington.

Since the program’s creation, Idaho has had between 10 and 20 first-year medical school slots available to Idahoans. If the full Legislature approves these five additional seats, this will be the largest increase to the program in its 42 year history.

The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee has also approved increases to Idaho’s family medical residency and psychiatry residency programs.

Idaho, like many states, is facing a shortage of physicians, particularly family doctors in rural areas. As StateImpact reported last year, Idaho has one of the fewest number of physicians per capita in the country. Medical educators in the region argue one reason for the shortage is the lack of medical school opportunities in Idaho.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician who graduated from the WWAMI program, said the new seats will connect the newly trained doctors to rural areas in Idaho, but the boost to the residency programs also is key. “The best way to ensure medial students returning to a community is residency training,” he said. “In my opinion, this is a great investment for the state of Idaho.” – Eye on Boise

Betsy Russell reports the panel approved the increased medical school funding on a 12-8 vote. The governor recommended a 3.6 percent budget increase for medical education. JFAC bumped that to 4.3 percent.

The five additional WWAMI seats will be an ongoing cost of about $250,000 per year.


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