Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho, has adopted a creative approach to a growing problem: physician shortages. It can be hard to attract practitioners to rural communities because medical students graduating with heavy loan debt tend to seek higher-paying positions in metropolitan areas.

In response, the Gritman Foundation and the medical center’s auxiliary, dedicated to the health of people in their communities, created two endowed scholarships to support medical students from Idaho. This effort was matched by a gift from the Huckabay family, long-time, generous supporters of UW medical students.

“We want to reduce the burden of student loans facing future physicians, especially the ones who want to practice medicine in rural areas like Latah County,” explains Kara Besst, CEO of Gritman Medical Center. “With the Gritman scholarships and the Huckabay match, our community can take an active role in reducing the physician shortage in Idaho.”

Creating such scholarships is a solution rooted in the strong relationships fostered by UW Medicine’s WWAMI program. For more than 40 years, WWAMI has based medical educational programs and student rotations in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Students get to know the areas and the people in the communities — and they consider returning to their communities to practice.

Michelle Spain, past president of the Gritman Medical Center Foundation board, and husband Francis Spain, M.D. ’76, a family practitioner and graduate of the first Idaho WWAMI class, were leaders in the effort to create the scholarships.

“The new endowment is a forward-thinking way to attract physicians to the community by building relationships with medical students early on,” says Michelle. She notes that “everything fell into place” after Francis developed ties with John Huckabay, a resident of Coeur d’Alene, who enthusiastically supported the scholarship program.

Francis himself, of course, is an example of staying in the region to practice medicine, and he enjoys the close-knit relationships in his rural community. Francis also serves as a preceptor for medical students, and he was honored for his service with the 2012 Idaho WWAMI Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring, Teaching, Leadership and Patient Care.

To Francis, all of these achievements — his education, his career, his work to create the scholarship, his decades-long involvement in the WWAMI program — is an expression of the program’s success.

“WWAMI has been phenomenal in training physicians from the region and encouraging them to practice in underserved areas,” he says.

Creating the Gritman Scholarships was an exercise in generosity and teamwork. Upper photo, from left: Mary Woods, auxiliary president; Kara Besst, Gritman CEO; Pam Hays, foundation president. Lower photo: Francis Spain, M.D. ‘76, and Michelle Spain.