WWAMI Regional Medical Education

In the early 1970s, the University of Washington took on a bold challenge to train and prepare physicians to care for patients and communities throughout the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (Wyoming joined in 1996). Today, this regional medical education program known as WWAMI (an acronym representing the states it serves) is heralded as one of the most innovative medical education and training programs in the country. The program has five primary goals:

  • provide publically supported medical education
  • increase the number of primary-care physicians
  • provide community-based medical education
  • expand graduate medical education (residency training) and continuing medical education
  • provide all of this in a cost-effective manner

The program has been recognized by the Association of American Medical Colleges with the Outstanding Community Service Award and has been identified as the nation's top primary-care, family medicine and rural medicine training school by U.S. News & World Report for the past 23 years.

A majority of the students training in the program choose to remain and practice medicine within the five-state region, and over half choose careers in primary care, helping to stem the shortage of primary care physicians, especially in rural areas. More than 20 percent of the population in the five Pacific Northwest states lives in rural and largely underserved communities.

Montana E2012 Class

What Does Regional Medical Education Mean?

Each state participating in WWAMI partners with the UW School of Medicine to educate a fixed number of medical students from and for their state. For the first year, students study at their home state university (University of Washington, or Washington State University-Spokane, University of Wyoming, University of Alaska-Anchorage, Montana State University, University of Idaho). Second year students from home state universities then come to the UW or to WSU-Spokane for their entire second year. During the third and fourth years of medical school, students complete clinical rotations in a variety of sites and environments within the five-state region to learn and experience very different facets of medicine. For example, one month might be spent in a remote community near Nome, Alaska, another in a migrant community near Yakima, WA and another in a Level I trauma center in Seattle. The goal is to provide a rich array of clinical experiences in a variety of settings, mentored by community-based clinical faculty who volunteer their time to educate the physicians in training.

The Changing Face of Regional Medical Education

WWAMI is constantly growing and changing to meet the needs of the region. In 2008, the University of Washington, in partnership with WSU and the Inland Empire community, expanded its first-year medical education program to include the WSU Riverpoint campus in Spokane, WA. In 2013, the program expanded further with a two-year pilot program to offer the second year at WSU Riverpoint for up to 20 second year students. This pilot program was made possible by generous support and contributions of the Spokane community, funders like the Hearst Foundation, WSU and the UW. The expansion allows medical students to spend their entire first two years of medical school on the WSU campus in Spokane. In fall 2014, the 20 medical students at WSU-Pullman will move to WSU-Spokane and the Pullman first-year site will close. Therefore, in fall 2014, there will be 40 first-year students at Spokane WWAMI on the Riverpoint campus; these students can choose to complete some or most of their third and fourth years of clinical training in Spokane. 

The UW will seek state funding to ensure that Spokane will become the first permanent four-year medical education program outside Seattle in the five-state WWAMI region. This funding request will support previously-announced plans by the UW, in partnership with WSU, to increase the number of students in Spokane's classrooms from the current 20 students to 80 students per class, per year.

Growth is happening in other WWAMI states as well. Recognizing the need for more physicians, the Montana legislature approved 10 additional student positions at its first-year site at Montana State University for a total of 30 first-year students per year, and the Idaho legislature approved 5 additional student positions in each of the last two legislative sessions to make a total of 30 first-year students at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The UW School of Medicine is committed to meeting the workforce needs of each of its partners.

Beginning in the fall of 2015 the UW School of Medicine will adopt a new contemporary medical education curriculum, and will expand clinical training opportunities in underserved areas across Washington state, including Yakima, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Bellingham and Vancouver.

The WWAMI partnership also enables the growth of biomedical research throughout the region. Discussions are underway on how to connect basic medical research to clinical innovation in Spokane and elsewhere.

Serving the Community through Regional Medical Education

A variety of programs are available in communities throughout the five-state region that provide not only an educational experience for medical students, but also supports community efforts through volunteerism. These include:

  • WWAMI Rural Integrated Training Experience (WRITE) - a six-month experience in a rural setting in which students complete clinical training working closely with community preceptors (clinical instructors).
  • Rural/Underserved Opportunities Program (R/UOP) - 4-week preceptorships (mentorships) available with practicing physicians in rural and urban underserved communities held over the summer between a student's first and second year.
  • Targeted Rural Underserved Track (TRUST) - Longitudinal experience with a single rural community over a student's entire medical school career, including completing both WRITE and R/UOP and returning regularly to learn about and work in the community.

Regional Medical Education in the Community

The UW School of Medicine is central to a network of programs designed to alleviate the shortages of healthcare programs in rural and underserved urban areas. These programs include:

  • Area Health Education Center Network (AHEC): A program that works to improve the diversity, distribution, and quality of the health workforce in the WWAMI region, partnering with communities to promote health career pathways, create educational opportunities for students from junior high school through professional and post-graduate training, and support healthcare providers caring for underserved populations.
  • The WWAMI Center for Health Workforce Studies conducts studies in the WWAMI region that can inform policy and advance workforce needs to address state healthcare workforce issues.
  • The WWAMI Rural Health Research Center focuses on policy affecting rural and underserved areas.