Guest view: 'Match Day' celebrates the next step for Montana physicians' career journey – The Montana Standard

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Montanans value our relationships and our quality of life. Other than our families, there is no more trusted or important relationship than that between a patient and a doctor. Our doctors provide the calm and trusted care that allows us the ability to live, work and play in this place we all love so much. This is why access to quality health care and qualified doctors is often ranked as a top concern for Montanans.
The existence of exceptionally qualified doctors in Montana is not assured over time. In fact, it can be very difficult to recruit and retain rural medical professionals. That is why Montana WWAMI, our state’s 50-year-old medical school partnership between Montana State University and the University of Washington School of Medicine, is so critical, and why March 18 is such an exciting day and should matter to all who call Montana home.
Each year 30 Montana medical students are selected for the WA-WY-AK-MT-ID (WWAMI) decentralized, cooperative medical school partnership. Since 1972, Montana WWAMI has helped homegrown medical students “match” in top residency positions across the country, including right here in Montana, where the final required years of hands-on medical training happen for our future physicians.
It takes a deep Montana work ethic and dedication for these students to complete the first stages of their education just to become eligible for residency positions. All of these future doctors must complete 18 months of rigorous scientific study and at least one year of clinical training clerkships focusing on family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, surgery and psychiatry.
The last stages of their initial training involve clerkships in emergency medicine and neurology and then several elective rotations help the student explore programs and specialties that will define their careers in health care in Montana and beyond.
For the Montana students who will finally complete this entire course in 2022, the finish line will come into view on March 18. After going through a complicated selection and interview process, Montana’s medical students get the news of where they “matched,” as will every other medical student in the country.
Montana WWAMI medical students have a lot riding on this big day and so do we. These are our kids, our students, and within a few years they will be our valued doctors. Nearly half of Montana students who complete medical school through Montana WWAMI stay to practice in the state. When combined with WWAMI graduates from surrounding states, more than 63% of physicians return to practice in primary care, psychiatry, surgery and other needed specialties in Montana.
Because of the wise investment in WWAMI by the Montana Legislature a half-century ago, all Montanans have helped grow this next crop of medical professionals for our great state. Take pride in the fact that within a few years you and your family will be valuing the relationship you have with them and they will be working to help make your Montana life even better.
Dr. Jay Erickson has practiced family medicine in the Flathead for 31 years. He serves as the Assistant Clinical Dean for Montana WWAMI, guiding curriculum, collaborating with the over 500 physician preceptors who teach Montana medical students, and working to advance graduate medical education in Montana. He practices in Whitefish.

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