Competing proposals to establish a pair of medical schools in Montana may seem like good news at first blush. But the plans may have serious consequences for already established medical training in the state.
The would-be institutions — one for a nonprofit school, the other a for-profit program — are both said to be vying to be the first medical school in the state. But, in fact, students already attend medical school here through Montana State University and Bozeman Health under the auspices of the University of Washington School of Medicine.
That’s made possible by the WWAMI program (so named for the participating states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). The Montana program accepts 30 students per year and they complete much of their education and clinical training here in the state. Graduates often return here to practice in underserved rural areas.
The competing proposals — one for a school in Billings and one in Great Falls — have also reignited the debate over the quality of education offered by for-profit medical schools — which is what the Billings school would be.
The quality of education given to WWAMI students is unquestioned. The UW School of Medicine is consistently recognized as one of the top medical schools in the nation, ranking in the top three for primary care education in 24 of the last 26 years.
Where these new proposals would impact the MSU program is in placing students in clinical settings as part of their training. There are limited numbers of openings available for such training. Introducing students from two, or even one, new medical school could diminish the availability of those slots for WWAMI students.
A proposal to open a osteopathic school of medicine at MSU a few years back was shot down after health care professionals pointed out competition for training slots could threaten the viability of the WWAMI program here. And that has not changed.
MSU and WWAMI administrators should get actively involved in the debate over establishing these new medical programs in the state. There’s no question the WWAMI program has been very successful in introducing Montanans into the field of medicine, and anything that threatens that should be met with concern.