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WWAMI: A rural medicine success story

The WWAMI consortium, started in 1971, has grown into a nationally acclaimed rural medicine program named after its five member states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Based at the University of Washington in Seattle, it emphasizes primary care and decentralized training similar to the approach favored by UC Merced. More than 60 percent of its graduates have stayed to practice within the five states.

Dr. Dan Hunt, who headed the consortium for 17 years, is now senior director of accreditation services at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., which accredits all U.S. medical schools. A longtime advocate of training more rural doctors, he cautions that launching such programs can face an uphill battle.

"The rural areas, because they're smaller, they don't have the voice and they don't have the visibility," Hunt said. "The woman who needs to drive a long ways to be treated by an obstetrician just doesn't have that voice that the media can pick up and magnify."

Yet these programs can have an enormous impact, training doctors who will seriously consider rural practices rather than more lucrative specialty posts in cities, he said.

Hunt urges UC planners to pay special attention to who they admit to the new school. Research has shown that medical students are more likely to stay in rural areas if they want to practice there and are exposed to role models who are themselves rural physicians.

— Deborah Schoch

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