The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2014-11-07

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Dear Friends,
One of the pressing challenges in our state — and a broader regional and national trend — is a troubling shortfall in the number of physicians available to attend to a growing and aging population.
You may have heard me jokingly mention that when I moved to Idaho with my wife, Mary Beth, I did my part to address the physician shortage in Idaho. As Mary Beth practices as a hospitalist, fully half the people involved in our move to Idaho are medical doctors.
Of course, that’s hardly a scalable approach to a challenge of this magnitude. The state of Idaho actually ranks 49th nationwide in physicians per capita, a deficit that is particularly pronounced and felt in our many rural communities. The shortage means reduced access to medical care, including preventative care that keeps minor health concerns from becoming major challenges, creating a ripple effect of economic and societal consequences.
Our opportunity to address this shortage in a meaningful way is through expanded access to medical training.
The University of Idaho leads on this issue through participation in a joint medical program through the University of Washington called WWAMI — short for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. While there has been a split between Washington State University and the University of Washington — the former is pulling out of WWAMI to embark on its own medical training program in Spokane — WWAMI remains an ideal fit for the University of Idaho in many ways.
The WWAMI program is Idaho’s medical school, holding its doors open to aspiring doctors from our state since 1971. Nearly 300 Idaho WWAMI students have returned to Idaho to practice medicine, armed with the very best medical education — according to U.S. News and World Report’s most recent rankings, the University of Washington ranked No. 1 for primary care, No. 1 for family medicine, and among the best in many other specialties.
Recognizing the looming physician shortage, in 2009 the Idaho State Board of Education established a goal of moving from 20 to 40 seats for Idaho students in the WWAMI program. Last year we reached 30 seats. This year, we are seeking continued funding for last year’s seats, as well as five additional seats for a total of 35. Our request has been approved by the State Board of Education and will go before the state legislature in the spring.
This is important progress we need to make — the health and prosperity of our state depends on it.
More than 50 percent of the students we send to WWAMI eventually practice medicine in Idaho — a very high rate of return. One such student is Grangeville’s Lee Spencer. Lee is a participant in the Targeted Rural and Underserved Students (TRUST) track of the WWAMI program. The TRUST track connects underserved, often rural communities with aspiring doctors. Students from Idaho can complete their first 18 months in Idaho, then head to Seattle for a year before choosing locations for residencies.
Lee would like to return to Idaho to practice in a rural community like the one where he grew up.
“It’s where the need is,” he said. “It’d be hard to find a place where your money can have more return than investing in rural, family physicians. You can prevent so many health problems for people, making it possible for kids to have successful, productive lives, and stopping health problems before they start.”
We need more dedicated professionals like Lee to have an opportunity to come back to our state. Five new WWAMI students at a time, we can build a healthier Idaho.

Chuck Staben portrait

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben
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Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho

UI Hires Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Enrollment; Dean of Students
The University of Idaho has appointed Jean Kim, Ed.D., to the position of Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. Craig Chatriand has been promoted from Associate Dean of Students to Dean of Students.
Kim will oversee all departments in the student affairs division, which supports a wide array of programs that create an enriching and safe environment for students. She will provide leadership and vision in administering a comprehensive range of programs and services related to campus programming and planning. Additionally, Kim will lead in the strategic planning of enhancing UI’s recruitment efforts within the enrollment management department.
As dean of students, Chatriand will help students navigate and experience university life and oversee programs designed to improve student health and wellness and overall well-being. 
UI Professor Möller Wins USDA National Teaching Award
University of Idaho professor and environmental chemist Greg Möller received one of the nation’s most exclusive and prestigious teaching awards Sunday, Nov. 2.
He became the first professor at the University of Idaho and neighboring Washington State University since 1996 to win a National USDA Excellence in Teaching Award given by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, one of two awarded this year.
Möller is on the faculty of the School of Food Science operated jointly by the University of Idaho and Washington State University.
The APLU represents America’s public research universities founded under the Morrill Act of 1862 and 235 institutions overall. Möller is the University of Idaho’s first recipient of the national award.
Inspiring Technology and Collaboration
Libraries are vibrant places where students can work on projects, practice presentations and explore ideas. The University of Idaho Library is raising $1.2 million to remodel its first floor to support the growing demand for technology-rich collaborative learning spaces.
Approximately 70 percent of the goal has been met thanks to several recent fundraising challenges. President Staben offered a $200,000 match, inspiring donors to contribute. Library advisory board chair Gary Strong ’66 also pledged up to $5,000 to match commitments by his fellow board members. More than $41,000 has since been added to the library fund, including major gifts by Ron and Jo Ellen Force and David ’74 and Julie ’75 Levine.
“The library is a focal point for student success,” said Dean Lynn Baird. “With that in mind, we encourage donors to help us show President Staben how much Vandals value libraries.” For more information on giving to the Library, contact Jim Zuba at 208-885-4142 or

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