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Published February 22, 2019
Wyoming leaders received updates on the expansion of the University of Wyoming’s WWAMI Medical Education Program and met members of the new class of medical students this week.
Among those attending a luncheon at the Cheyenne Depot were faculty and staff from the program; state legislators; physicians and educators from both UW family medicine residency programs; graduates of the program; and students in the new WWAMI 2018-19 class.
Through WWAMI -- which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho -- Wyoming students attend UW for the first year of medical school before earning their degrees from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Starting this fall, the medical students will spend the first semester of their second year at the University of Wyoming. Wyoming’s WWAMI students must return to the state to practice medicine for three years after completing residency, or they must repay the state the amount of money expended on their behalf.
Timothy Robinson, director of the WWAMI Medical Education Program in Wyoming, noted that the program has grown from the inaugural class of 10 students in 1997 to 40 medical students in fall 2019 -- 20 first-year and 20 second-year students -- on the University of Wyoming campus. Nearly $1.5 million in state-funded facility upgrades have occurred over the last two years, including a state-of-the-art human cadaver lab, two active-learning classrooms and a new dedicated study space for WWAMI students.
In addition to overwhelming support from health care providers in both Laramie and Cheyenne, Ivinson Memorial Hospital has provided classroom space for WWAMI students at no cost.
“Seven in every 10 Wyoming WWAMI students will return to practice in our state,” Robinson said. “Just last week, a WWAMI graduate finishing pediatric residency contacted me about finding a job in Wyoming and, within a couple of hours, there were four providers requesting interviews with this physician.”
Dr. Larry Kirven, assistant clinical dean with Wyoming WWAMI, acknowledged how unique the WWAMI program in Wyoming is, noting the breadth of medical education opportunities afforded to students, while maintaining rural primary care roots for students. He pointed out the experiences of two students, working with preceptors in different parts of Wyoming, who later were recognized for presentations at the prestigious Western Student and Resident Medical Research Forum in Carmel, Calif.
“I can’t think of many educational programs that offer students such a range of opportunities, from learning in rural Wyoming, to innovative research at one of the top research institutions in the U.S.,” Kirven said.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso also spoke to the students. Along with offering some humorous anecdotes about being a physician in a rural state like Wyoming, Barrasso, a physician himself, said, “Our students are the best and brightest in Wyoming. We want you here. We want you to return here to practice.”
Later in the day, the WWAMI students, along with administrators and staff members, visited the Legislature, where students were introduced to members of the House and Senate. During their visit, the students also met with Gov. Mark Gordon.
Gordon asked questions, open to a group response, about medical issues unique to Wyoming.
“One of our big challenges is reaching patients in rural places,” he said. “How can we improve in clinics around the state?”
First-year student Jesse Hinshaw discussed the promising area of telemedicine, which can allow greater medical specialty access to rural residents of Wyoming. Telemedicine uses technology to enable a physician and patient to meet through a televised connection. Hinshaw noted his experiences working with telemedicine in locations around Wyoming.
The governor concluded by thanking the students for visiting and saying, “I hope you’ll be in Wyoming for a long time.”
Students in the 2018-19 WWAMI class, listed by hometown, are:
Big Piney -- Caleb Brackett.
Casper -- Marcus Couldridge and Conner Morton.
Cheyenne -- Trey Thompson, Aleksandra Zarzycka and Jacob Zumo.
Cody -- Amanda Golden, Sean McCue and Ryan Winchell.
Encampment -- Jesse Hinshaw.
Gillette -- Adam Blaine.
Jackson -- Alexis Anderson and Elliott Trott.
Laramie -- Allana Hall, Reno Maldonado and Renae Wollman.
Rock Springs -- Rida Fatima and Daulton Grube.
Sheridan -- Reed Ritterbusch.
Sinclair -- Logan Taylor.
Explore an interactive map at www.uwyo.edu/wwami/ to view where WWAMI graduates are practicing around the state.