| 03.20.2018

Idaho in good hands – WWAMI program aims to reshape medical education


Idaho”s only medical school has received a fair amount of attention for the reforms and expansions it has recently made.

Dr. Jeffrey Seegmiller, director of the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI) program, said this program gives Idaho students the opportunity to attend medical school without paying out-of-state tuition.

The University of Washington has partnered with these states in an attempt to offer affordable medical education to students who aren”t Washington residents, Seegmiller said.

“It”s great because the University of Washington is a top medical school ranked No. 1   in primary care,” Seegmiller said.

WWAMI has been expanding its number of seats for students, and Seegmiller said he hopes the legislature continues to fund and expand it until they reach a total of 40 seats.

In addition to the expansions, Dr. Dustin Worth, WWAMI clinical medicine coordinator, said the program has also recently undergone a transformation to better educate medical students.

Worth said in the past students would learn basic science in Idaho and then complete their second year of medical school in Seattle, where they learned clinical aspects.

“This is the first year we have an integrated curriculum which combines the basic science and the clinical side from the beginning,” Worth said.

Seegmiller said reshaping this program has condensed two years of medical school into an 18-month model.

“For example, rather than have a separate class in anatomy and microbiology, they talk about clinical cases in class that involve both disciplines,” Seegmiller said.

This change means students spend less time in the classroom and more time doing homework outside of class and online, Seegmiller said.

“Students used to have to sit in class from six to eight hours a day and hope that they remember what their instructor taught,” Seegmiller said. “Now they come to class for four hours a day with maybe an hour of lecture and then three hours of case-based, small group learning.”

Seegmiller said he is convinced this is the way medical education should be carried out.

“Looking at the educational research,” Seegmiller said, “Learning retention and the outcomes are better.”

In the beginning of this reformation, Seegmiller said there were a lot of skeptics about this change in curriculum, but eventually faculty and students came to see the benefits.

“To watch a faculty member that”s an expert teacher completely reinvent what they do and teach differently has been very rewarding,” Seegmiller said. “Now I have faculty come in and tell me they wouldn”t do it any other way.”

Marlane Martonick, WWAMI program manager, said medical school graduates often want to return to Idaho to practice.

“Our rate of return is 51 percent for just the Idaho students who come back,” Martonick said. “When adding the group of students from other states in the WWAMI program with Idaho students that come back to Idaho, that number goes up to 75 percent.”

Yet Worth said at times there aren”t enough Idaho residency programs offered to medical school graduates.

“This is a rural state, so we”re especially looking for people interested in practicing rural medicine,” Worth said. “Usually hospitals offer residency programs, but the biggest challenge is funding for them, which is done through federal government programs.”

Worth said Idaho is nationally-ranked low for physicians per capita, and said the number of residency programs may take a toll on that number.

“The more residency spots we offer in Idaho, the easier it will be for us to keep physicians in Idaho,” Worth said. “WWAMI doesn”t have a direct role in increasing residency spots, but I think it”s important for the students that we”re training.”

Jessica Gee can be reached at  arg-news@uidaho.edu

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