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Idaho’s physician shortage spurs support for U of I medical students

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John Huckabay

This fall is the first time medical students at the University of Idaho will benefit from the D.A. Huckabay M.D. WWAMI Scholarship Endowment. When I set up the Huckabay Scholarship Endowment in 2019, I did so knowing that Idaho needs physicians, that the U of I is an ideal place for future physicians to start training and that offsetting debt is critical to their success.

WWAMI is the University of Washington School of Medicine’s (UWSOM) multi-state medical school. The acronym stands for the states that partner with UWSOM — Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Idaho WWAMI is the state’s only publicly-funded medical education program and offers students a chance to attend one of the most consistently highest-ranked medical schools in the nation in their home state.

Idaho needs physicians

A few weeks ago, the Idaho Business Review reported that Idaho ranks last in physicians per capita. Compounding this, Idaho has been the fastest-growing state for three years running, and many of Idaho’s health care professionals are nearing retirement.

Idaho WWAMI is critical to Idaho’s physician pipeline. Since 1972, the partnership between the University of Idaho and UWSOM has provided high quality, community-based medical education with a truly unique focus on rural medicine. Right now, there are 80 future physicians in classes at the University of Idaho and even more in clinical rotations across the state.

Over the past 48 years, Idaho WWAMI has trained 812 physicians. Approximately 51% of them have returned to Idaho to practice; the national average of graduates who practice in the same state where they received their education is 39%.

Why I support Idaho WWAMI

I chose to set up the Huckabay Scholarship Endowment at the U of I with a $1.5 million gift because Idaho WWAMI students receive a greater benefit — in terms of education quality, financial support and emotional support — than anywhere else I’ve worked with in the WWAMI system. The university and I are aligned in that we care deeply about the students, their education and their success.

At any given time, there are 80 medical students in classes at U of I; 40 per class for the first two years of medical school. It’s a small enough cohort that U of I staff and faculty can connect with the students, identify and address problems before they become too large, and the students themselves form deep bonds during this short but pivotal time in their lives. The facilities there provide medical students with comfortable and safe places to study as well as world-class laboratories to begin practicing their craft. The U of I has developed excellent partnerships with medical providers on the Palouse, notably with Gritman Medical Center, and the budding physicians just getting started benefit from those relationships, as well.

Offsetting debt

As far as tuition and student debt load, you won’t find a better option than WWAMI. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average annual cost for an Idaho WWAMI student is $37,800, compared to the national average of $62,000 for non-resident public medical school. Reducing debt helps keep Idaho-trained doctors here instead of seeking higher paying jobs elsewhere. Worth noting as well is the staggering rate of return for Idaho WWAMI. For every public dollar invested in Idaho WWAMI, $5.10 returns to local communities in the form of employment, sales transactions and state and local taxes — more than double the national average of $2.30.

One of the best ways to address Idaho’s physician shortage and encourage recruitment of family physicians into all corners of our state is to support Idaho WWAMI. More so, supporting in-state medical students as they start their journey in medicine at the U of I gives them the foundation they need to be successful.

John Huckabay, from Coeur d’Alene, was born in Seattle and has lived in Idaho for nearly 40 years. To honor his grandfather’s legacy as a rural physician, the Huckabay family has helped support more than 1,300 WWAMI medical education graduates since the 1990s. John is the trustee of the Durward and Susan Huckabay Foundation. Through his philanthropy, he hopes to inspire others to help support future physicians, especially in Idaho.

About John Huckabay