“If anything comes along that will help move Spokane forward in a big way, the Clacks will be right in the middle of it,” says Ken Roberts, Ph.D., director of Spokane’s first-year WWAMI medical education program.

With a recent gift to UW Medicine and with other advocacy efforts, Spokane community members Mari and David Clack are proving Roberts right. The Clacks are key members of an educational movement involving partnership and innovation at the personal level and between the University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU).

The story — and the Clacks’ gift — begins with medical students from the state of Washington who are enrolled in the WWAMI Spokane program.

In the 1970s, the UW School of Medicine began work with other Northwest educational institutions, politicians and community members to educate students who would stay in the Pacific Northwest to practice medicine. The program — which would eventually involve Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho — became known as WWAMI. Although Spokane had been part of WWAMI for many years by training third- and fourth-year students during their clinical phase, it wasn’t until 2008 that a cohort of first-year medical students began to train on the WSU Spokane (Riverpoint) campus. These students joined similar WWAMI cohorts already established in other states and on the WSU Pullman campus.

Given the Clacks’ extensive experience in business and community advocacy, they began to explore the vast potential in this UW-WSU collaboration. The Clacks have one major goal in mind: training doctors to practice in Eastern Washington, where doctors are very much needed.

There’s a certain domino effect, explains Roberts, that begins in the first year of medical school.

“We want students to see that Spokane is a great community, so we want to expose them to local doctors and to community-oriented social events in that first year,” Roberts says. “If they have a good experience, they’re more likely to return for clinical training during their third and fourth years. If they do that, they’re much more likely to consider completing their residency training here. And doctors tend to settle and practice near their residency site.”

Social events help first-year students feel at home in Spokane, and that’s where the Clacks have focused their giving. “It’s a very modest beginning, but you have to start somewhere,” says David Clack. Encouraging community engagement in the WWAMI program itself is the Clacks’ next step. “We’ve found that when we get people out to the campus and they walk around, and we show them what’s happening, they get really excited,” says Mari Clack, a former University of Washington regent.

The excitement will likely build as the UW and WSU work together on a new piece of the WWAMI program: a pilot project that would test the feasibility of teaching second-year students at the Spokane site. To date, student training has only been offered in the first year and during the clinical training phase in the third and fourth years — and all medical students spend their second year in Seattle. But a pilot could place all four years of the WWAMI program in Spokane.

“I’m a believer in collaboration,” Mari says. When it comes to medical care for the WWAMI region, she adds, “we’re all in this together.”

In making a gift to support the future of medical care in Eastern Washington, Spokane residents Mari and David Clack are also paying tribute to Mari’s father, Clyde Jensen, M.D., a pathologist at Harborview who cared deeply about medical education.