WWAMI Celebrates Two Anniversaries

March 5, 2012

(This article first appeared in the Wyoming Business Report)

WWAMI, the unique medical education program that is helping train primary care doctors for rural practices in Wyoming and other Northwestern states, is celebrating two major milestones this year.

WWAMI, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, is marking its 40th anniversary, while Wyoming, the newest state in the medical education consortium, is marking its 15th anniversary in the program with an expanded class of 20 medical students.

Some who helped establish the program in Wyoming were honored Tuesday at a luncheon to commemorate the twin anniversaries. Drs. Howard Willson of Thermopolis, Tom Spicer of Rock Springs and Robert Kanard of Cheyenne were honored for their various roles in pushing Wyoming to join WWAMI and volunteering to serve as the first WWAMI student selection committee in the state.

Also honored was Wendy Curran, former executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society, who worked with Gov. Jim Geringer and the Legislature to establish the program and later served as a health care adviser to Govs. Dave Freudenthal and Matt Mead.

Under the WWAMI program, medical students spend their first year taking classes in a university in their home state, spend their second year in classes at the University of Washington in Seattle and then spend their third and fourth years in clinical rotations throughout the five-state region, often working one-on-one with doctors who train them in various real-world medical practices.

In Wyoming, WWAMI is part of the University of Wyoming, and UW President Tom Buchanan said it is one of UW's most successful programs. Wyoming's program has enrolled 183 students so far, including the 20 first-year students who started last August.

So far, 55 have completed residencies, and of them, 37 -- two thirds -- have returned to Wyoming to practice, many of them as primary care physicians, a critical need in Wyoming, according to Dr. Richard Hillman, the WWAMI coordinator for Wyoming.

The WWAMI program has been recognized nationally as the most cost-effective medical school in the country, and Dean Paul Ramsey, M.D., quipped that thanks to Alaska, WWAMI is also the world's largest medical school in terms of total geography, covering 30 percent of the nation's land mass.

Ramsey said WWAMI was a "truly radical idea" when it was first contemplated more than 40 years ago, but over its four decades, it has proved to be a viable model for medical education and can be a model for the full continuum of health education.

He noted that while Wyoming was a late comer to the consortium, "You have caught up and in some ways moved ahead. You have taken it from the first year to providing rural underserved programs and get all the things they are supposed to do."

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