Gov. Dunleavy proposes funding cut for WWAMI medical training program

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed cutting nearly $3.1 million in state funding for a program that trains medical students for service in the state. The state is looking at a projected $1.6 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year.

The University of Alaska Anchorage participates in a regional medical program where universities in Washington state, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho collaborate with the University of Washington School of Medicine to educate physicians, KTVA-TV reported Sunday.

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.

The administration's figures are misleading because the pool includes all students in the five-state region, said Suzanne Allen, vice dean of the Washington medical school.

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.

"The students are able to train here," said Megan Ritter, interim director of the program in Alaska. "They're able to do their medical school training and connect with their family and network with different practices in town with the intent that they'll be able to come back."


The Alaska students enter the program by applying to the Washington medical school. They begin their education in Anchorage, and they can later take clerkships in medical specialty areas in any of the participating states. Alaska gets 20 seats in the program, receiving about 90 applicants each year.

“It is the only option if you want to pursue a medical degree,” said Stephen Ellison, a fourth-year medical student from Klawock. “You can apply to medical schools outside of the WWAMI program, but it’s incredibly difficult to get into those programs.”