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Division of Health Sciences

Montana State University has a strong commitment to and focus on health professions education. To promote, support and expand the institutional capacity to meet health related needs of the people of Montana, the Division of Health Sciences (DHS) was created and many of the health related activities on campus are united under the DHS. Notably the Division houses the Professions Health Advising Office which offers guidance to students interested in pursing careers in Medicine, Dentistry, and other health related fields. The DHS is the home of the Montana WWAMI Medical Education Program, a cooperative partnership with the University of Washington School of Medicine that admits 20 Montana residents into the program leading to the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Montana WWAMI students spend their first year of medical school on the MSU campus. The DHS encompasses several important outreach organizations, including the Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the Montana Office of Rural Health (MORH). The AHEC and the MORH work with Montana communities in many capacities, including programs to interest K-12 students in health care professions, programs that address wellness issues in rural communities and programs that focus on communities needs regarding health issues. The Montana Family Practice Residency program, the "cousin" to the WWAMI medical program that provides training for new physicians in primary care, is affiliated with the DHS. The DHS extends into the biomedical research arena by fostering integration of biomedical research activities at MSU, where there are strong programs in biotechnology, neurobiology, immunology, cell biology, molecular biology, microbiology, proteomics and genomics. Many of these programs support undergraduate research and introduce students to biomedical research. Partnerships are key to achieving the goals of the DHS and extend to most of the colleges on campus including Letters and Science, Nursing, Education, Health and Human Development, Engineering and Agriculture.

Health Professions Advising

The DHS is committed to the undergraduate community interested in the health sciences by providing this service to help students best achieve their ultimate career goals. The role of the office of Health Professions Advising (HPA) is extensive and serves students from across the campus as well as alumni considering career changes. There are many academic departments that support pre-health career majors including the biomedical option in Cell Biology and Neuroscience and majors in Engineering, Microbiology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Veterinary Molecular Biology to name but a few of the more common choices.

Beginning at freshman summer orientation, students interested in learning more about the health professions may attend a special session describing the opportunities at MSU. Prospective students are also encouraged to meet with the Health Professions Advisor. In the freshman year students may take a one-credit class focused on the variety of health professions. During the sophomore year an introduction to dentistry course is offered as well as opportunities for continued counseling through the HPA office. During the spring of junior year, as students begin to prepare for the formal application process to a health professions school, detailed application workshops are offered. Additionally, a commercial medical college admissions test (MCAT) review course is offered on campus. Also during this critical time, the pre- professional health advisory committee (PPAC) conducts interviews with students planning to apply to pre-health programs and advise on appropriate schools to which students should apply. Evaluations are prepared by the committee and used as part of the student's application materials. During the senior year, students' applications are processed and monitored by the Health Professions Advisor and/or the office staff. Importantly, students are counseled throughout the decision making process.

Supplementing the formal activities of the HPA, the only Montana chapter of Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), the national pre-health honors society, hosts a series of presentations by a variety of health professionals to introduce students to practical aspects of health careers. Students are also encouraged to join the electronic mailing list provided by the HPA and AED students have an opportunity to interact with first year medical students enrolled in the WWAMI program to get insights from the student's perspective. The success rate of MSU students applying to medical and dental schools is substantially higher than the national average.

WWAMI Medical Program

Montana State University is one of six universities participating in a program to decentralize medical education in five states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI). The WWAMI Program is supported by the State of Montana and guarantees that 20 qualified students can be admitted to the University of Washington School of Medicine each year. The WWAMI Program does not involve premedical (undergraduate) education.

Sponsored by the University of Washington School of Medicine at Seattle and leading to an M.D. degree from that institution, the program is designed to make medical education available to citizens of the Northwest and to educate medical students in a way that will encourage them to practice primary care medicine in areas that lack a sufficient number of physicians.

Montana students receive the first year of their medical education at Montana State University. The curriculum is similar to and compatible with the University of Washington School of Medicine curriculum which emphasizes an integration of the basic and clinical sciences.

Course subject matter at Montana State University includes human gross anatomy, histology, human physiology, medical biochemistry, introduction to clinical medicine, musculoskeletal anatomy, immunology, infectious diseases, behavioral systems and the nervous system. A clinical preceptorship program has been developed, which involves the students with local physicians for several hours each week and for four weeks during the summer.

Following this first year of study at Montana State University, students join the portion of the class that began their studies in Seattle at the University of Washington as well as students from the other WWAMI regions (Wyoming, Alaska and Idaho).

At the conclusion of the first two years, students enter the phase of their education which is predominantly clinical in nature. During this phase, students receive a portion of their training at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a portion of their clinical education from physicians in the communities where the physicians live and practice (community phase). These latter "Community Clinical Units" are established for a given educational need (e.g., pediatrics, family medicine). Seven Community Clinical Units have been established in Montana. These are located in Billings (Internal Medicine and Obstetrics), Great Falls (Pediatrics), Missoula (Internal Medicine and Obstetrics), Havre (Family Medicine), and Whitefish (Family Medicine).

To be eligible for the Montana State University WWAMI Program, the prospective medical student must be a legal resident of Montana for one year prior to application and must satisfy the admission requirements of the University of Washington School of Medicine. It is not necessary for a student to complete his or her premedical (undergraduate) education at Montana State University in order to be eligible for the WWAMI Program. Students admitted to the program are selected by the Admissions Committee at the University of Washington School of Medicine and are regarded as members of the freshman medical class there, although they register as resident students at Montana State University for the first year of the program.

For further information see the WWAMI web site at http://www.montana.edu/wwwwami/, contact the Montana WWAMI Director at MSU by calling 406-994-4411, or send e-mail to wwami@montana.edu.

Montana Area Health Education Center

Until the fall of 2007, Montana was a regional AHEC for the University of Washington WWAMI Program, along with other states in the WWAMI system. The Montana AHEC at MSU was allowed to apply for funding through the College of Nursing in collaboration with the Montana WWAMI Program in the Division of Health Sciences. This new grant has allowed Montana to create its own AHEC system, with four regional centers and the Program Office which is located at Montana State University in Bozeman. The first center is in Billings and is hosted by Yellowstone City County Community Health Center, home of the Montana Family Practice Residency Program and the 3rd Year WWAMI Program. The second is located in Dillon, hosted by the Montana Hospital Association. In year two of the grant, a center will be started in Western Montana, probably in conjunction with the 3rd Year WWAMI Program in Missoula. In the fall of 2009, a center will be established in North Central Montana. Once in place, each center has up to six years of funding that will total approximately $1.5 million. After six years of start up funding, the centers receive a more modest grant and are expected to be self-sufficient. The purpose of the regional centers is to connect health professions education to rural and underserved communities. Programs developed at the centers will focus on creating a pipeline of health professionals; placing WWAMI students and other health professions students in rural rotations; and continuing education programs for health professionals. AHECs are designed to strengthen the healthcare workforce and improve health by forging connections between health professions education and communities.

The mission of the Montana Area Health Education Center is:

  • To improve the supply and distribution of health care professionals, with an emphasis on primary care, through community/academic educational partnership, to increase access to quality health care.

The mission is accomplished by pursuing goals, objectives and activities which are common to all AHECs.These are changed and/or modified each year in response to decisions made by the federal granting agency. The following guidelines are used in establishing annual goals, objectives and activities:

  • Form productive linkages between healthcare units to the benefit of underserved and rural communities.
  • Foster and encourage collaborative community-based health programs.
  • Serve as a resource, clearinghouse and disseminatory of health information.
  • Promote improved health and disease prevention through educational interventions.
  • Respond to emerging community-based needs regarding health issues.
  • Provide technical assistance on healthcare-related issues to underserved communities.
  • Help implement collaborative community-based, multidisciplinary education and training for health professionals and health professions students.

For further information, see the AHEC web site at http://healthinfo.montana.edu/, contact the AHEC office at MSU by calling 406-994-6003, or send e-mail to kjuliar@montana.edu .

Montana Office of Rural Health

The Montana Office of Rural Health is funded through the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. MORH is a resource for information on rural health issues, data, research and funding opportunities. MORH participates in 3RNet, a multi-state rural health professions recruitment program; manages the Small Hospital Improvement Program; and provides technical assistance to rural communities on rural health projects.

The mission of the MORH is "to serve its communities through: (1) collecting and disseminating information within the state, (2) improving recruitment and retention of health professionals into rural areas, (3) providing technical assistance to attract more federal, state, and foundation funding for rural health, and (4) coordinating rural health interests and activities across the state."

All of the SORH are required to conduct activities which will accomplish three core and two additional functions:

  • Establish and maintain a State clearinghouse for collecting and disseminating information on rural health care issues, research findings related to rural health care, and innovative approaches to the delivery of health care in rural areas.
  • Coordinate activities carried out in the state that relate to rural health care; including providing coordination to avoid duplication in such activities.
  • Identify Federal, State and nongovernmental programs regarding rural health and provide technical assistance to public and nonprofit entities regarding participation in such programs.
  • Encourage recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural areas.
  • Participate in strengthening State, local and Federal partnerships in rural health.

For further information, see the MORH web site at http://healthinfo.montana.edu/ , contact the MORH office at MSU by calling 406-994-6003, or send e-mail to kjuliar@montana.edu .


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