Alaska's only med school program fights planned shutdown

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposal to shut down the state's only medical school program by withdrawing about $3 million in funding faced pushback during a recent state Senate finance committee hearing, according to CBS-affiliated television station KTVA.

Alaska participates in the University of Washington School of Medicine's WWAMI medical education program. WWAMI is an acronym for the states served by the UW: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Through WWAMI, the university's medical students can access all four years of medical training at locations in participating states.

Suzanne Allen, MD, vice dean for academic, rural and regional affairs for the University of Washington School of Medicine, said Alaska educates about 80 medical students each year through the program and told the finance panel that the WWAMI program is a good way for Alaska to address its need for new physicians, according to the report.

"We know that there is a shortage of physicians across the state, across the country," she told KTVA after the hearing. "Alaska is no different, there is a real need for primary care physicians. So when we just look at the benefits of the WWAMI program, we focus on training people to work in primary care in rural areas."

The plan to withdraw funding for Alaska’s participation in the program is part of the governor's budget revealed last month for fiscal year 2020.

At the time, the governor's budget team wrote that the medical school program "has not proven effective at meeting the demand for new physicians, despite a significant state investment over the years. Diminishing returns of this program are not sustainable in the current fiscal environment."

But Dr. Allen argues the UW partnership makes more financial sense than building a medical school in Alaska. She also said the program provides faculty and staff jobs as well as new physicians.

The committee will continue to review the governor's budget, according to KTVA.

 

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