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Proposed law: Idaho medical students must practice in state or pay back tuition

University of Idaho - WWAMI
Robin Lopez
No Job # - external photographer
An Idaho legislator introduced a bill that would require graduates of the state’s medical school to practice in the state for at least four years or pay back any tuition that was subsidized by public dollars. (Courtesy of the University of Idaho)

WWAMI students would sign contract to practice full time in Idaho for at least four years

Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, introduced a bill to the Idaho House of Representatives on Wednesday that would require graduates of the state’s medical school to practice in the state for at least four years or pay back any tuition that was subsidized by public dollars.

House Bill 718 outlines contract requirements for students who are accepted into the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho Regional Medical Education Program, better known as WWAMI, at the University of Idaho or the University of Utah. WWAMI is Idaho’s only medical school that is partially funded by state dollars, and the medical school that produces the most rural physicians for the state, with incentives available for those who decide to practice in a rural area of Idaho. The program is part of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, but every applicant who joins the Idaho branch is an Idaho resident. The school admits about 40 students per year, some of which are reserved for Idaho students at the University of Utah.

Moyle said he has been concerned for many years about students who graduate and do not return to Idaho to practice medicine, and Montana, Wyoming and Alaska have a similar contract with medical students.

“(The bill) says we’re going to help you with your education, but we want you to come back to Idaho and spend some time here to help reimburse the citizens of the state who paid for your opportunity to go to that school, who helped subsidize that education,” Moyle said.

The program costs about $80,000 per year at the University of Idaho, with state support covering roughly half of tuition.

Students in the program would commit to entering active, full-time professional practice in Idaho within one year of obtaining a license to practice medicine or finishing a residency or fellowship. The reimbursement obligation would not be subject to interest and could be suspended or waived based on hardship or other specific circumstances related to military service.

Idaho ranks near the bottom of states in the country for number of active primary care physicians, and 49th for active physicians overall. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, nearly every corner of Idaho, or 98%, has a shortage of primary care physicians.

“We need doctors in Idaho,” Moyle said. “We’re on the low end of things, and we need them back here.”

The obligation would apply to students who enroll in the WWAMI program at the University of Idaho or University of Utah in fall 2023 and beyond. The bill could receive a hearing by the House Education Committee in the coming days of the session.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.