BOZEMAN — Friends and family gathered today at MSU to watch medical students finally receive their white coats. The program called WWAMI encourages talented students from underrepresented areas to enter the field of medicine.
Emerald Toth and Erin Peterson are two out of 30 students selected to study in the WWAMI program, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho: Five states under a cooperative program with the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Toth says she is grateful for the program because she was able to stay close to her family.
“I’m a 5th generation Montanan so staying here for medical school is a huge perk,” said Toth.
Peterson was beaming after the ceremony. She said there was a lot of dedication to get to where the class is now.
“A lot of hard work and trial and error has gone into this so it feels surreal being here,” said Peterson.
Director of WWAMI, Martin Tientze says the program is improving the state of healthcare in the state.
“The goal of the WWAMI program was to provide an opportunity for Montana students to go to medical school since we did not have our own,” said Tientze. “More importantly to provide more physicians for the state.”
Toth said she is excited to take the next step in her journey to become a doctor.
“We've been in school for the last couple of weeks but now it feels real,” said Toth. “We’re going into the hospital and finally able to see patients.”
Tentze says Montana has a shortage of physicians, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. WWAMI has an emphasis on trying to find students who are interested in rural practice. WWAMI produces the most rural physicians in the state.
“We have clinical training going on from Libby, to Miles City, and from Glasgow to Dillon,” said Tientze.
During the program, students complete their 18 months of medical school at MSU and then go on to continue their education at The University of Washington in Seattle.
WAMMI students pay in-state tuition. Students who do not return to Montana to practice medicine after they graduate are required to pay back half of the costs the state paid on their behalf.
Tientze says about half of the students return to Montana. Toth said she will be one.
“My family is all here,” said Toth. “I love being here. I love Montana. I could definitely see myself coming back and practicing here.”