Rural recruitment key to solving rural physician shortage

EMILY SCHABACKER

When the time came, KayCee Gardner packed up her family’s horse trailer and pulled an apartment’s worth of belongings into Seattle. Unprepared for the narrow city streets, Gardner found herself backing the trailer out of a tight squeeze, trying to find a path wide enough to pass.

Gardner is from Broadus, Montana, where it’s not unusual for a horse trailer to double as a moving van.

It was the beginning of Gardner’s medical training at the University of Washington with the WWAMI program. The aim of the program, accessible to medical students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, is to create a pipeline of physicians to underserved communities by recruiting directly from those underserved areas. 

But even with dozens of WWAMI students circulating through the state every year, the rural physician shortage in Montana continues to leave large expanses of the state without enough providers. Overall, there are about 245 primary care physicians for every 100,000 patients, making Montana 24th in the nation for doctor-to-patient ratios. 

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