Patrick Miller might be your next doctor.
The WSU College of Medicine student fell in love with the area around the Tri-Cities while he was an undergraduate at Whitman College.
Officials hope that love of the area and medicine will bring Miller and 14 of his classmates from WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine back to under-served eastern Washington communities when they graduate.
Even in Benton County, which boasts two hospital systems and a number of clinics, the number of doctors per 100,000 people trails behind most western Washington counties, according to a University of Washington report. It’s worse in Franklin County, which trails behind many of its neighbors.
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“Every year, about 250 promising, highly qualified students leave Washington,” wrote Henry Mroch and Jeremy Graham in a 2014 column in the Seattle Times. “Washington state needs to graduate almost four times as many doctors annually to approached the national average relative to its population.”
The pair of Spokane-based doctors were not alone in their call. Floyd, the university’s president at the time, successfully lobbied the Legislature to allow the land grant institution to open a medical school.
After receiving provisional accreditation last year, WSU accepted its first class of medical students last week. When the 60 students were picked, each selected one of four campuses — Tri-Cities, Spokane, Vancouver or Everett.
When Miller signed up as a medical student, he picked the Richland campus. For the first two years, he is spending most of his time at the campus in Spokane. In his third and fourth year, he will move to the Tri-Cities to spend time learning in clinics and hospitals across eastern Washington.
What is different about the WSU program is that during their first two years, the students will spend six weeks in the communities they will soon be serving, said Guy Jones and Shakti Matta, two Tri-City doctors.
Jones, an oncologist at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, and Matta, a Kennewick pediatrician, are two of the doctors hosting the students as they spend time in the Tri-Cities. The students recently wrapped up their second week-long trip to the area.
These intersession weeks serve a dual purpose, staring with allowing students a sneak peak at the real world application of what they’re learning in class.
Emily Gray, another of the medical students, said the time in the field will give her an advantage over her peers at other schools. In her last visit, she spent time with a nephrologist, an addiction medicine doctor and at an intensive care unit.
“We get exposed to different areas of medicine that we might be interested in,” she said.
The other purpose is connecting the students to the communities they will be serving when they get out of medical school.
“To be a good provider, you have to understand it’s not just you,” said Matta, who started her career in Othello before moving to the Tri-Cities about 10 years ago. “You have to be able to work in a team.”
All of the students are staying with host families during their week-long stays. Miller stayed with Mark and Kathy Brault, who run Grace Clinic. The clinic provides healthcare services to Benton and Franklin County residents.
“They took me there and showed me around the clinic,” he said. “It’s really nice to have people who are willing to take you in and take you under their wing. It really turns it into an immersive and fun experience.”