History of Alaska WWAMI

Alaska was the first state to partner with the University of Washington School of Medicine in the collaborative medical school known as WWAMI, with classes beginning at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1971.  Classes were first held in Montana and Idaho in 1972. Wyoming became a partner, adding the second “W” to the acronym, in 1996.  The purpose of WWAMI is to provide publicly funded medical education to residents of this five-state region, and to train physicians who will return to practice in their home states.

Read the full history on the Alaska WWAMI website.


Alaska WWAMI 1971-2011

1971-1975-Coordinator, Dr. Richard Lyons-WAMI first year curriculum began in the fall in the Arctic Health Research Building of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus with 9 students (five from Alaska, four from Washington).  Commonwealth Fund of New York (private foundation) initially funded the WAMI Program a $1 million dollar grant.


1971-University of Washington, School of Medicine partners with four northwest states (University of Alaska Fairbanks; Washington State University, Pullman; University of Idaho, Moscow and Montana State University, Bozeman) to admit students who would complete their first year of medical school in their state of origin.


1971-1973-One semester of courses offered at University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus-First Alaskan Community Clinical Unit established in Kodiak in Family Medicine.


1972-Idaho and Washington State University joined the program.  Federal Bureau of Health Manpower Education, Department of Health, Education and Welfare awarded a $1.5 million contract to WAMI and an extension contract, giving WAMI a total of $8.1 million picking up the tab between 1972-1975.  Eleven students in program.


1973-Montana State University was the fourth and final university added to the program.  Clinical rotations began to phase in Alaska.  Eleven students in program.


1974-First class offered entire first year medical curriculum.  Psychiatric Community Clinical Unit opened (January).  Alaska State Legislature approved funds to support WAMI (1974-1975).


1975-Alaska opened its first Community Clinical Unit (CCU) training site in Anchorage teaching Psychiatry with Dr. Robert Kraus.  MEDCON satellite link was established.  A toll-free telephone line that connected physicians in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska with the expertise of the School of Medicine physicians any hour of the day or night.


1975-1983-Director, Wayne Meyers, M.D.-July 1st-A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Boards of Regents of the University of Alaska and the University of Washington agrees to admit 10 Alaska residents to medical studies each year.  First class to be selected according to MOA.  First full funding of WAMI by the State of Alaska began in July.  Twelve students enter program (2 from Seattle).


1975-Granted full seven years’ accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education of the Association of American Medical Colleges, the national accrediting agency for all American medical schools.  First successful completion of the first-year program.


1977-Ten students enter program.  Federal funding ended.  University of Alaska assumed responsibility for reimbursing University of Washington School of Medicine for the cost of educating Alaska medical students.


1978-OB/GYN Clerkship begins with Dr. Hedric Hanson.  Eleven students enter program.


1978-Family Medicine Clerkships begin in Anchorage and Ketchikan (Dave Johnson).


1979-WAMI Program went off federal funding and becomes self-sustaining.  Each state supports first-year medical courses, instruction for its students at the University of Washington and clinical teaching sites.


1979-Della Keats Enrichment Program (DKEP) began in Alaska (A six week academic bridging program administered by WWAMI-Alaska’s Medical School that targets honors level Alaska Native/Native American high school students from minority, rural, and other disadvantaged populations who are interested in pursuing a health career transition from high school to college).  Eleven students in WAMI program in Fairbanks.

1980-Enrollment was increased to 13.  Dr. Thomas Nighswander from Anchorage was on interview committee for Alaska.


1981-MEDEX (Med-icine Ex-tension) Northwest Physician Assistant Training Program began recruiting in Alaska.  A certificate program with a bachelors and master’s degree option that trains primary care physician assistants to work with medically underserved populations in the WWAMI region in an intensive two year curriculum.  MEDEX Northwest initiates a training satellite in Sitka, Alaska, but due to lack of state funding, MEDEX was forced to close in 1995.  The first MEDEX Northwest class (1969) consisted of 15 former military medical corpsmen to provide healthcare services to the community.


1981-Alaska WAMI began the Alaska Native Health Careers Program for 20 minority/disadvantaged high school graduates and college students preparing for health careers.


1983-1985-Interim Director, Ray Bailey, Ph.D.


1985-1986-Director, Dr. Sven Ebbesson-Board of Regents authorized an increase from 10 to 15 students.


1986-Last WAMI class in Fairbanks, Alaska location.


1986-1987-Interim Director, Ray Bailey, Ph.D.-Students attended classes in Seattle.  $75,000 endowment fund established by the Standard Alaska Production Company (SOHIO) to support up to five WAMI medical students who pursued training in Alaska Bush medicine.


1987-Budget situation and declining oil revenues resulted in reduced number of students from 15 to 10.


1988-2000-Director, Michael Dimino, Ph.D.-Legislature funded UAA $250,000 to plan for the program with the expectation of offering the first year program in Alaska at UAA during the 1989-1990 academic year.


1989-WAMI transitioned to University of Alaska Anchorage campus.  Ten Students returned to the University of Alaska Anchorage within the School of Nursing and Health Sciences.


1989-Rural/Underserved Opportunity (R/UOP) Program sends its first medical students to small towns to acquaint them with practice in physician shortage areas.-A program for students to experience community medicine between their first and second years of medical school.  During their 4-week rotation, students live in rural or urban underserved communities throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) providing students with early hands-on experiences in clinical practice while working side-by-side with local physicians providing health care to underserved populations.  First students were Tracey Arnell and Jeff Baurick.


1994-Student Providers Aspiring to Rural and Underserved Experiences (SPARX) began to provide interdisciplinary educational experiences to encourage health care professionals and students to practice in rural or urban underserved communities.


1996-Wyoming joined expanding WAMI to WWAMI-Alaska Program was moved to the College of Arts & Sciences.


1997-Alaska Family Practice Residency starts in Anchorage, Alaska with Dr. Harold Johnston, Alaska WWAMI Graduate.  Alaska Track approved by University of Washington School of Medicine and begins in summer of 1997.


1997-Alaska Pediatric clerkship begins.


2000-2004-Director, Ray Bailey, Ph.D.-WWAMI Rural Integrated Training Experience (WRITE) Program began in Soldotna, Alaska-Provided third-year students a six months experience in a rural site studying required clerkships in family medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, medicine, surgery, and psychiatry.


2002-Alaska Surgery clerkship begins.


2003-Internal Medicine Clerkship became regular with Dr. Norman Wilder as site coordinator.


2004-Alaska Neurology clerkship began.


2004-2010-Director, Dennis Valenzeno, Ph.D-First Alaska PreMed Summit held in Anchorage-Provides information to anyone wanting to learn more about the process of becoming a physician.  For undergraduate and high school students, but non-traditional students, high school counselors, college advisors, and parents.


2007-House Bill 18 signed by Governor increases Alaska’s medical student enrollment from 10-20 students.


2009-Added Clinical Rotation Chronic Care in Anchorage-Dr. Nancy Cross.


2009-Added Clinical Rotation Emergency Medicine in Fairbanks-Dr. Mark Simon.


2009-Emergency Medicine clerkship began.  First Anchorage, Alaska Medex class begins-Physicians Assistant Program began.


2010-Chronic Care Pain clerkship began.


2011-Interim Director, Robert Furilla, Ph.D-First Anchorage Medex class will graduate 15 students.


2011-Palliative Care clerkship began.  WWAMI moves to new Health Science Building in August-new college-University of Alaska Anchorage, College of Health.