UAF Medical school proposed

Amber Sandlin
Feb. 22, 2011

In January, Representative Scott Kawasaki introduced House Bill 38 to establish an Institute of Medicine at UAF and an Institute of Law at UAA. According to Kawasaki, if passed by next year, the institutes would be ready for enrollment in 2014 or 2015. Each program would cost approximately $20 million yearly. Alaska is one of a handful of states to have no medical school and the only state without a law school. With the cost of healthcare and legal services on the rise, Kawasaki is pushing this bill to be passed by 2012. “Alaska shouldn’t deny opportunity to the best and brightest,” Kawasaki said in his sponsor statement.

Law and medical students are required to go out of state for at least part of their education. As many as 20 medical students have the option of graduating from UAF with a medical degree by using the program WWAMI. WWAMI is a partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. The UW School of Medicine has a Dean’s Office in each of the five states. These offices oversee clinical medical education for the School of Medicine within their regions and provide support services for the local clerkships. However, there is no option for law students to study in Alaska. The Alaska State Medical Association does not hold a position on starting a medical school in Alaska. “There needs to be a good, hard look at it to determine whether an Alaska-based medical school would be better than what we currently have,” Director Jim Jordan told the Anchorage Daily News.

Scott Kawasaki, a 35-year-old Fairbanks representative, is a UAF alum who graduated with a biochemistry degree, wanted to go to medical school and then law school but could not due to the lack of availability in Alaska. House finance co-chairman Bill Stoltze told the Anchorage Daily News he thinks Kawasaki is just looking for headlines. “I don’t think that there is any serious consideration,” he said. “We’re struggling to make sure we have nursing programs, struggling to do things like the Medicare clinic in Anchorage. We’re just trying to keep our heads above water.” Kawasaki estimates the initial cost of opening each school at around $50 million, but there is nothing in his bill stipulating or supporting that amount.

Kawasaki said that Alaska has a shortage of doctors and that shortage is likely to worsen as the state’s population increases. If a medical school is available in Alaska, students will likely stay in the state, according to Kawasaki. Alaska has the potential to be a model state for rural healthcare, alternative medicine, and tribal and environmental law. Unsure if the bill will pass through the House, Kawasaki said, “We will start the movement.”

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