School of Medicine’s rural education program celebrates 40th anniversary

With a name that sounds like it packs a wallop, the UW School of Medicine’s multi-regional medical program, WWAMI, is celebrating 40 years—and some serious accomplishments.

An acronym for the five partner states (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho), WWAMI allows medical students to train in their home state for the first year and at the UW during their second. After that, they spend their next two years doing clerkships at hundreds of locations within the five-state region.

Since its founding in 1971, WWAMI has worked to provide publicly supported medical education to the Northwest region; expand community-based medical education; expand graduate education and residency training; help address the lack of physicians between urban and rural areas; and do all of that in a cost-effective manner.

“One of the great things about WWAMI is that students can tailor their education to what they’re interested in,” says Dr. Suzanne Allen, Vice Chair for Regional Affairs in the UW School of Medicine. “They can have an experience in inner-city Seattle. They can have an international experience. They can have a rural-medicine experience. There are really a lot of opportunities for them.”

John McDougall, a 42-year-old medical resident, says WWAMI not only provided a stellar education, it allowed him to study in a dream environment.

“I’d already decided that rural medicine was my intended course of study,” he says. “But then my medical school coordinator mentioned the possibility of studying in Bozeman, Montana. Fly fishing? Skiing? Plus a world-class anatomy professor? It was too good to be true.” Jacob Casey, a 29-year-old medical student currently completing his first year of study at the Spokane campus (other first-year sites for Washington residents include the UW and WSU in Pullman), says he, too, feels lucky to be part of the WWAMI program.

“We have a group of 20 students in the first year here in Spokane versus a first year in Seattle with 180 students,” he says. “You get more attention, you form closer bonds with your instructors and with your peers. Plus the community is very excited to have us here.”

At top: Drs. Jerry Ball and Roger Rosenblatt in Galena, Alaska. Photo courtesy Roger Rosenblatt.