Governor signs bill to address physician shortage

by Joy Mapaye

Gov. Sarah Palin has authorized more students to receive their medical education in Alaska. The governor signed House Bill 18 on Wednesday. The bill doubled the number of entering students into the WWAMI Program from 10 to 20 students.

Alaska is one of five states participating in the WWAMI Regional Medical School. Washington, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are the others.

The program’s director says this is one step in helping to alleviate the physician shortage in the state. They say another is to look at residency opportunities in Alaska, along with other efforts to keep doctors in the state.

“Another thing we need to look at carefully is how we recruit and retain physicians in this state. It’s not enough to just bring a physician here, but we want to keep them here and keep them practicing,” said Dr. Dennis Valenzeno, director and professor of the WWAMI Biomedical Program.

All 20 students have now been notified. The class begins fall of 2007. Students say the changes will help with Alaska’s medical needs.

“Alaska has a severe physician shortage and we need as many docs coming into this state as we can get and doubling the WWAMI Program is definitely a good step in that direction,” said Summer Engler, who is entering the WWAMI class of 2007.

The physician supply task force has suggested the state bring the number of students in the program to 30. Some lawmakers say that could be a possibility in the future.
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