Letters to the Editor

Letter: Fund Alaska’s medical school

The night of Jan. 3, 2014, I lay awake next to my 7-month-old son, who struggled to breathe with the virus that had infected his lungs. As his breathing got faster and he began to gasp for air, I realized I did not have much time. We rushed to the ER, where a physician, Dr. Andy Elsberg, calmly worked to save my son’s life. Talking to Dr. Elsberg, I learned he was from Alaska and that he had studied medicine in the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho School of Medicine, Alaska’s medical school. I had just returned to Alaska as an assistant professor in WWAMI to teach biochemistry, but it was not until that moment that I truly understood the value of the program I had joined.

Seven years since that night, I have had the chance to teach and watch as some of Alaska’s most remarkable students come through the WWAMI program and return to our state as young doctors. These are students that grew up in the places we know: Nome, Ketchikan, Kenai, Anchorage and Wasilla. They are fishermen, cross-country skiers, EMTs, veterans and police officers. Their stories started in Alaska and they almost always wind up back home in the communities that they love. So much so, that we can boast the fourth-highest retention rate of any medical school in the country, with almost 60 doctors returning to Alaska for every 80 that we train.

If WWAMI is not funded this year, the medical program, with a 50-year history in Alaska, could come to an end. Our contract with the University of Washington, the No. 1 primary care medical school in the country, will be broken, and it is quite possible that WWAMI will not survive in Alaska. I would like to thank Gov. Mike Dunleavy for recently introducing WWAMI, the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant into the current legislative special session and would encourage legislators to support these vital programs in the coming months.

— Max Kullberg

Anchorage

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