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September 2, 2011

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Message from Paul Ramsey

Paul G. Ramsey

WWAMI celebrates 40 years

Dear Colleagues:

I am very pleased to announce that during the 2011-2012 academic year, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the WWAMI program. WWAMI is the regional medical education program managed by the University of Washington School of Medicine that offers medical training for the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

The WWAMI program began in 1971 as an experiment designed to bring medical education to Northwest states that lacked their own medical schools and that needed more physicians. A $1 million grant from the Commonwealth Foundation made the pilot project possible. The vision, creativity and collaboration of many individuals at the UW School of Medicine and in the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho moved the initial pilot forward.

The program grew over time — WAMI became WWAMI in 1996 when Wyoming joined — and today, there are eight sites for first-year medical students in the five states, four MEDEX physician assistant training sites, and hundreds of clinical sites throughout the five-state region for training medical students, physician assistant students and residents. When students are asked to describe what they value most about their education, the answer is frequently the experience of working in diverse communities across the WWAMI states, from urban hospitals to small rural clinics.

WWAMI logoWWAMI is unique. No other public medical school crosses state lines, much less five state lines. No other medical school represents one-quarter of the American land mass. I believe that WWAMI is the finest example in higher education in our country of partnership, collaboration and communities working together — educators, legislators, governors, community physicians and other health professionals, and business communities — to advance the health of a region. WWAMI is a model for the nation of high-quality, cost-effective medical education. It offers outstanding education and training for students and residents and gives community physicians the pleasure of working with bright, motivated young people.

Events will be held throughout the year to celebrate this remarkable program, with each WWAMI state hosting at least one event. The first will be held in Anchorage on Saturday, Sept. 10 and will also mark the opening of the new Health Science Building on the University of Alaska-Anchorage campus. More information about that event is available online

The second event will be held on Oct. 7 in Bozeman at the Montana State University first-year WWAMI campus in conjunction with the medical student white coat ceremony. For those of you attending the annual Association of American Medical Colleges in Denver, there will be a WWAMI reception on the evening of Nov. 6. More information is available from Kellie Engle, UW School of Medicine Regional Affairs director of operations, at kaengle@uw.edu. Additional events will be listed in Online News throughout the year.

I would like to thank the thousands of individuals involved in making the WWAMI program a success. Without your efforts, WWAMI would not be possible. You are part of something that is truly extraordinary and your work has led to improved health for people throughout the Northwest. Thank you for your very fine work and commitment.


PGRamsey Signature2


Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington




UW Medicine faculty among first to receive NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research funding

Edwin Rubel Researchers at the UW and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are among the first to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health Blueprint for Neuroscience Research program aimed at developing new drugs for disorders of the nervous system.

Principal investigators Edwin Rubel, UW professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery (photo, right); David Raible, UW professor of biological structure, and Julian Simon, associate member molecular pharmacology in the FHCRC Clinical Research Division and UW affiliate associate professor, will use the award for their project on hearing loss and balance disorders. The team will develop compounds to prevent the damaging effects of certain antibiotics and anticancer drugs on the inner ear. The team is testing compounds in larval zebrafish, which use similar cells to detect vibrations in water. The Blueprint has made awards to seven research teams at six academic institutions and one drug discovery company. 

The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network will serve as a resource enabling investigators to develop new drugs for nervous system disorders and prepare them for clinical trials, and will be funded at up to $50 million over five years. The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network is one of the Blueprint Grand Challenges, intended to promote major leaps in the understanding of brain function and in approaches for treating brain disorders.

Project teams supported by the Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network receive research funding, plus access to millions of dollars worth of services normally only available to pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry consultants will assist investigators throughout the drug development process, from chemical optimization to biological testing to advancing the drug into early-stage clinical trials. Each project team will be required to meet a set of interim milestones to continue to receive funds and access to Blueprint resources.

The NIH Blueprint pulls together 15 of the agency's institutes and centers, leveraging their resources to confront major, cross-cutting challenges in neuroscience research.


Gregory Terman receives Life Sciences Discovery Fund commercialization grant award

Gregory Terman, UW professor of anesthesiology, will receive $149,976 from the Washington State Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) to test a device, developed by UW and Seattle-based Impel NeuroPharma, that delivers drugs directly to the brain.

Drugs targeting the central nervous system (CNS) currently must be delivered either systemically (orally or intravenously) or by direct injection into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). However, systemic exposure to drugs can cause serious side effects or toxicities, and CSF injection is risky, painful and expensive. UW and Impel NeuroPharma have developed a novel device for targeted drug delivery to the CNS through an intranasal route. Results of initial testing in animal models are promising. The goal of this commercialization grant is to demonstrate in human clinical studies that the device can preferentially deliver a pain medication to the CNS. The research team will compare CNS actions and blood levels of drug delivered via the device with those of systemically delivered drug. Impel NeuroPharma is pursuing partners and funding for commercialization of the device.

This award was made in the second round of the 2010 commercialization grant competition, which promotes the translation of promising technologies from Washington’s non-profit research sector into marketable products and services with the power to improve health, foster economic growth, and enhance life sciences competitiveness in the state.

Funding for commercialization grants comes from donations to LSDF by Amgen, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Group Health Cooperative, Microsoft Corporation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Regence BlueShield, and Safeco Insurance Foundation; and from Washington’s allocation of payments under the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement of 1998. 

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a Washington state agency established in May 2005, makes grant investments in innovative life sciences research to benefit Washington and its citizens. For more information, contact Cathyryne Manner at manner@lsdfa.org  or 206.732.6755.

Clinical Care

Valley Medical Center ranks as one of Washington's best work places

Rich Roodman Valley Medical Center, the newest member of UW Medicine health system, captured gold in the Puget Sound Business Journal’s annual Washington’s Best Workplaces annual ranking, published in the July 2011 issue.

The medical center took first place in the Extra-Large Nonprofit Companies rankings. (Must have a journal subscription to read complete article online.)

Valley Medical Center serves a population of nearly 600,000 and employs about 3,000 people.

Rich Roodman, Valley Medical Center’s chief executive officer (photo,left), said the culture at the medical center is founded on a lesson his mother taught him: “Being nice to people is a core value.” Another is keeping the lines of communication open among all levels of employees, which has been a focus at Valley Medical Center.


UW Medicine to participate in pilot study on hospital readmissions

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has awarded UW Medicine a grant to support its participation in the Hospital Medicine Re-engineering Outcomes Research Network (HOMERUN), a collaborative of hospitalists across the United States.

The AAMC will provide $12,500 in matching funds for this pilot study, the first to better understand transitions of care and the causes of preventable readmissions.

HOMERUN aspires to be a trusted broker of what works in hospital medicine and how to spread proven strategies across the network of collaborating institutions and beyond. The network is comprised of hospitalists at 15 hospitals across the United States, including 10 university-based medical centers. The intention is to grow the network over time to include additional institutions and for Homerun to serve as a model for other effectiveness and implementation research networks in other clinical areas.

HOMERUN site-based principal investigators will lend their research expertise to the quality improvement initiatives already underway at hospitals across UW Medicine. HOMERUN collaborators at UW Medicine are Grant Fletcher, UW acting instructor of medicine; Annelise Schleyer, UW associate professor of medicine and director of the medicine hospitalist service at Harborview Medical Center; and Nicholas Anderson, UW assistant professor of biomedical health informatics and associate director of the Bioinformatics Core, Institute of Translational Health Sciences. Fletcher also sits on the HOMERUN steering committee.

The HOMERUN Steering Committee has developed a protocol and data collections instruments that will add more detailed information to better help us understand the complexities related to transitions of care and readmissions.



Education and Training

Alexandra Hunt named 2011 Pisacano Scholar

Alexandra Hunt Alexandra Hunt, a UW fourth-year medical student, has been named a 2011 Pisacano Scholar. She was one of five recognized as an outstanding medical student who has made a commitment to enter the specialty of family medicine.

The awards, valued at up to $28,000, are given by the Pisacano Leadership Foundation to outstanding medical students who are committed to entering family medicine. It also recognizes leadership skills, academic achievement, communication skills, character and integrity, and noteworthy community service.

Hunt graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s degree in art.

Prior to entering medical school, Hunt worked as a health educator and volunteer assistant at a rural health clinic in El Salvador and a comprehensive perinatal health worker for the Comprehensive Perinatal Support Program of California. She is a board member and volunteer for the Children’s Health International Medical Project of Seattle, the coordinator and a volunteer with the Perinatal Care Project, and a leader with UW’s Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) for the last two years.

Hunt has volunteered with the free sports medicine clinic, the Latina Health Fair, the Aloha Inn Clinic and currently volunteers with the Dermatology Clinic for Homeless Men and Women and the Casa Latina Clinic. Alexandra is also currently a member of the Latino Medical Student Association and UW’s Global Health Pathway and Hispanic Health Pathway. She is the recent recipient of the SPARX/CHAP Exceptional Participation Award, which is given to those students who demonstrate a major commitment to the program by their volunteer service.

Hunt wants to practice family medicine in a rural setting, where she can work with community members to advance their health goals. 


Graduate Medical Education orientations focus on safety and communications

The UW School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education Office welcomed more than 350 new interns, residents and fellows in June. Critical to their success at the bedside is the annual two-day UW Medicine orientation devoted to safety practices and communication.

The orientation for interns was held June 22 and 23, and the orientation for residents and fellows, June 29 and 30.

Lawrence R. Robinson, UW vice dean for clinical affairs and graduate medical education, welcomed participants at each orientation. The first day featured information about the UW Medicine Patients First initiative, on-line social networks, health sciences libraries, Washington State reporting laws and UW benefits. The second day consisted of in-depth, computer-based classroom training on medical information technology and software, as well as interactive, small group training in TeamSTEPPS, an evidence-based teamwork system used at the hospitals to improve communication and teamwork skills among healthcare professionals.

Robinson noted in an article in the July issue of AAMC Reporter, a publication of the Association of American Medical Colleges, that many errors are related to communication breakdowns among all providers, not just residents and doctors. He said it is essential that residents are trained on how to communicate with all members of the healthcare team.

“Communication is essential in this environment because patient care is so complex and so many people are involved,” Robinson said. “Anything we can do to enhance communication is going to be an improvement.”




WWAMI Regional News

Montana WWAMI welcomes 20 first-year medical students

Montana Class 2011 Orientation for the 2011 Montana WWAMI students was held Aug. 15 – 16 on the Montana State University (MSU) campus and at the Hyalite Youth Camp. The 20 students were welcomed by University of Washington School of Medicine and MSU leadership. Activities included a videoconference welcome from UW School of Medicine Dean Paul Ramsey, lunch with MSU WWAMI faculty and staff, a hike to Grotto Falls, and dinner with a Welcome to Medicine talk by Mike Spinelli, UW clinical instructor of medicine, preceptor coordinator, and Medical Information for Decision Making course chair, from Bozeman. The students then had time to chat around the fire with current Montana WWAMI third- and fourth-year students.

Students will spend their first year at MSU in Bozeman and participate in a curriculum similar and standardized with that of the UW School of Medicine. WWAMI students join their classmates on the Seattle campus for year two.

The hometowns of the incoming class range from across the state and include Alberton, Big Sandy, Billings, Bozeman, Conrad, Fairfield, Fromberg, Glasgow, Havre, Hysham, Miles City, Missoula, Rapelje, Scobey, and Stevensville.

Montana undergraduate colleges and universities attended by this entering class include Carroll College (2 students), Rocky Mountain College (2), University of Montana (4), Montana State University Bozeman (6) and Montana State University Billings (1). Non-Montana schools include Bowdin College in Maine, University of Minnesota, University of Oregon, Pacific Lutheran University in Washington, and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Two entering students completed post baccalaureate studies—one at MSU and one at Harvard.

Of the 20 entering, five were accepted into the Montana TRUST (Targeted Rural/Underserved Track) program. Preceptors for this year’s TRUST participants are UW clinical instructors and family medicine physicians Burke Hanson, of Dillon; Charles Marler, of Shelby; and Greg Rice, of Libby. Laura Bennet, UW clinical assistant professor and family medicine physician, of Lewistown, and Sue Gallo, family medicine physician of Miles City are also preceptors.


Alaska's first class of physician assistants graduates

Fifteen University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA) physician assistant students were awarded Physician Assistant Certificates from the UW School of Medicine Aug. 18 at Wendy Williamson Auditorium on the UAA campus.

The group – Class 1 – is Alaska’s first graduating class through the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant (PA) Program, a collaborative partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and UAA. The program’s flagship site is in Seattle with locations in Spokane, Yakima and, most recently, Anchorage.

UAA Chancellor Tom Case and U.S. Senator Mark Begich were among the dignitaries who attended the graduation ceremony and congratulated Alaska’s first class of physician assistants. Other speakers included Thomas Nighswander, assistant regional dean, WWAMI; Ruth Ballweg, division chief, MEDEX UW PA Program; and Cheryl Easley, dean, UAA College of Health.

PAs are licensed healthcare professionals that practice medicine with physician supervision. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and can write prescriptions.

The need for PAs continues to grow across Alaska due in part to a lack of primary care physicians and surgeons in rural communities. Class 1 will blaze new trails in a state that is dealing with not only a physician shortage, but also health access issues in remote areas that are off Alaska’s road system. PAs often work autonomously in remote locations but have 24/7 access to their collaborative physician by phone, in addition to monthly site visits.

Twelve of the 15 students are Alaskans, and 14 of the graduates intends to stay in Alaska to seek employment.

“There is very strong data that shows that where physician assistant students do their clinical rotations is where they stay,” said John Riley, MEDEX program coordinator. “We have a class of self-selected pioneers who signed up to be in the first Anchorage PA class. I hope they will become advocates in their communities for improving health care. I believe they will be instrumental in improving access to health care for Alaskans.”

Graduates of this first class also are eligible to earn bachelor’s degrees in health sciences from UAA. Upon the successful completion of the program, graduates are eligible to sit for the National Certifying Exam for Physician Assistants.

Learn more about the MEDEX Northwest PA Program.



Upcoming Events

The following is a listing of some upcoming events that may be of interest to the UW Medicine community.

UW Department of Radiation Oncology Symposium, Sept. 9

Hypofractionation RT Strategies: Benefits and Pitfalls, a day-long symposium, Friday, Sept. 9, Orin Smith Auditorium, UW Medicine South Lake Union. Robert Stewart, UW associate professor of radiation oncology and medical physicist, will give the keynote lecture titled Biological Mechanisms Underpinning Fraction-Size Effects in Photon and Hadron Therapy.  After the lecture, there will be oral presentations on new therapies, delivery systems and implementation techniques and equipment used in radiation oncology. Register online. For more information, visit the Department of Radiology Oncology website or contact Velida (Vee) White at   veewhite@u.washington.edu or 206.598.4115.

Bioethics Grand Rounds, Sept. 14

Integrating Palliative and Critical Care: An Empirical Approach to Providing Ethical and High Quality End-of-Life Care, 4 p.m., Room T-639, Health Sciences Building. J Randall Curtis, professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and director, Harborview/University of Washington End-of-Life Care Research Program, will describe the current state of palliative and end-of-life care in the critical care setting and review research designed to better understand and improve the quality of care. The research focuses on communication with patients and their families and a balanced and individualized approach to shared decision-making. For more information contact bhinfo@u.washington.edu  or 206.543.5145. Sponsored by the Department of Bioethics & Humanities and UW Medical Center.

Ethical considerations in research collaborations conference, Sept. 22 – 23
The Ethical Considerations in Research Collaborations conference will bring together nationally recognized speakers for a discussion of ethical challenges in three areas: university to industry collaboration, researcher to researcher collaboration, and international collaboration. The conference is sponsored by the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity. Visit the conference website for more information or to register.  
Faculty Development Workshop, Oct. 21

“You Got Promoted to Associate Professor – Now What?” 8 a.m. to noon, Friday, Oct. 21, UW South Campus Center, Room 316. While this workshop is geared to midcareer faculty, all are welcome to attend. Speakers include UW School of Medicine faculty members Chris Surawicz, Robb Glenny, Deb Schwinn, Larry Robinson, Anna Wald, Grace John Stewart, Tueng T. Shen and Josh Benditt. The workshop is sponsored by the UW Medicine Office of Faculty Development. For information, contact Michelle Walter at mmwalter@uw.edu or 206.543.6232.

Future of Contraception Conference, Oct. 29 – 31

The Future of Contraception Initiative, a three-day conference, Oct 29-31, Edgewater Hotel, 2411 Alaskan Way, Seattle. The conference will bring together international experts to address global needs, new developments in male and female contraception, and recent research in reproductive biology.  UW Department of Medicine Chair William J. Bremner is chair of the organizing committee and local host for the conference. Register online. For more information, contact foci2011@uw.edu or call 206.543.1537.

Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium Workshop, Nov. 8

The fourth annual Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium Workshop on Genome Engineering takes place Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Seattle. The workshop provides a forum for discussion about genome engineering concepts, methods, and applications under study in both consortium and non-consortium laboratories. Register online. Visit the Northwest Engineering Consortium website or contact Andre Durudas, consortium project coordinator, at 206.884.7399 or andre.durudas@seattlechildrens.org for more information.

Continuing Medical Education

Visit Continuing Medical Education for more information on upcoming classes.