Part of the WWAMI partnership between University of Idaho and the University of Washington’s top-ranked School of Medicine, TRUST stands for Targeted Rural Underserved Track. (Getty Images)
One of Idaho’s best kept secrets that is transforming health care in our state is the TRUST program.
Part of the WWAMI partnership between University of Idaho and the University of Washington’s top-ranked School of Medicine, TRUST stands for Targeted Rural Underserved Track. This year, TRUST is celebrating 10 years of training the next generation of rural primary care physicians in the Gem State.
As a WWAMI graduate and former TRUST scholar from a rural community now practicing in Jerome, I now mentor medical students as a physician preceptor helping them fall in love with rural medicine while providing high quality care to those patients who aren’t necessarily used to receiving it. TRUST helps students grow faster as clinicians and become more comfortable with procedures because they spend so much time in the same underserved clinical setting.
One of the highlights of my career has been mentoring 2022 WWAMI graduate Dr. Demsie Butler.
Butler is a fifth-generation Idahoan who grew up on Spring Cove Ranch near Bliss, Idaho, and recently became the first medical student in the country to complete most of her training in the Magic Valley.
WWAMI’s decentralized medical school model allows for students to complete all four years of training in their home state and, through TRUST, establish long-term relationships through consistent hands on work in rural and underserved clinics including in Jerome.
Butler is now completing her residency through Full Circle Health (formerly Family Medicine Residency of Idaho) in the Magic Valley, and I continue to serve as her attending physician.
Butler’s story epitomizes the value of TRUST for Idaho, which ranks last nationally for the number of active physicians per capita. The situation is particularly dire in our rural counties. It’s common for my patients to drive three or four hours to their regular checkups, and many avoid seeking the preventative care they need because it can be such a hassle to find an appointment near their farm or ranch.
TRUST attracts some of the top medical students from Idaho, students like Butler, who pass a highly selective admission process and are matched with communities throughout the state where they spend time during all four years of medical school. TRUST offers an opportunity for these medical students to experience clinical care for a host of diseases ranging from diabetes and depression to cancer screenings. On top of that, students are able to serve members of the entire family from delivering babies to helping folks age in place. In their TRUST communities, these future doctors benefit from the expertise of physician preceptors over the course of their medical school career.
In 2021, the estimated number of physicians providing direct patient care in Idaho was 3,180, 19% higher than the estimated number practicing in 2014. Despite another D.O. school now operating in Idaho, WWAMI still creates the most family doctors who stay and practice in Idaho.
Even so, there’s a persistent physician shortage with an estimated just 64 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. Idaho’s family physicians are also getting older with the mean age now 52. Compared with urban areas, most rural areas of Idaho had fewer physicians per 100,000 people and many rural counties had higher percentages of physicians age 55 or older.
TRUST is an essential piece of the puzzle as we work to ensure people in rural and underserved communities get the care they need. I’m thankful to the Idaho Legislature for continuing to support WWAMI for the past 50 years and TRUST for the past decade.
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