Tuition assistance for medical students on the chopping block

Tuition assistance for medical students on the chopping block

Consortium built among states that do not have their own medical schools

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed cutting about $3.1 million in state funding for a program that trains medical students for service in the state.

The acronym for the program, WWAMI, stands for the states served by the UW School of Medicine: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The University of Alaska Anchorage participates in this program. If the contract with the state is dropped, Alaska would be the only state in the country to not provide state assistance for medical education, according to a Monday morning Senate Finance committee presentation.

“If we do not continue forward with our contract with the state of Alaska … students will finish the program and we will just not recruit additional classes,” said Suzanne Allen, Vice Dean for Regional Affairs for the University of Washington School of Medicine in a Senate Finance committee meeting Monday morning.

The Republican governor’s administration cited figures indicating the number of program graduates who practiced in Alaska has dropped from 84 percent to 61 percent from 2014 to 2018.

“The WWAMI program has not proven effective at meeting the demand for new physicians, despite a significant state investment over the years,” the administration said in the documents.

[Proposed Medicaid, health care cuts spark outrage]

The administration’s figures are misleading because the pool includes all students in the five-state region, Allen said in a previous interview with the Associated Press.

The state pays about half of tuition for Alaska students in the program. Graduates who don’t return to Alaska are required to pay the state back.

Allen said during a Senate Finance committee meeting Monday the return on investment is around 70 percent for the Alaska program.

[Senate approves fast-tracked disaster relief funds]

She said 61 percent of the graduates from this program return to Alaska, and 11 percent of licensed Alaska physicians are WWAMI graduates. It’s the largest contributing medical school to the Alaska physician workforce. She compared the cost now to how much it would be to build a new medical school, which was over $100 million to build a new school in North Dakota, a state with similar population to Alaska.

By the numbers

Alaska needs to recruit about 60 physicians each year to keep up with the demand in the state, Allen said.

WWAMI costs $5.50 per Alaskan compared to over $20 per North Dakotan, Allen said. Right now, there are about 80 students, full capacity for the program. WWAMI has over 200 clinical faculty teaching medical students and residents in 26 different communities. There are 377 clinical experience opportunities across the state for medical students and residents.

“This is publicly supported medical education,” Allen said.

Possible alternative

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, questioned Allen if there has been discussion on how to deal with budgetary constraints with the state funding portion of the program. But Allen said there has not been a discussion with any other groups.

Allen said the consortium was built among states that did not have their own medical schools, and that’s why other states are not a part of the program.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, said perhaps an endowment might be able to fund the program.

“We’ll be looking at trying to preserve WWAMI in some concept,” said Stedman at the close of Monday’s meeting.


• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@juneauempire.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, questions Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, who was giving an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, questions Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, who was giving an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

Most Read