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Medical students who train in WA plan to practice here and fill much-needed primary care positions

UW Medicine says it is hiring 12 more providers amid high demand. Some students training in the state are deciding to stay and fill open positions.

SEATTLE — If you're having trouble finding a family doctor accepting new patients, you're not alone. Demand for primary care physicians is greater than ever, according to medical professionals.

The UW Medicine network of healthcare providers is working to grow its primary care team, according to Dr. Victoria Fang, who serves as Medical Director of UW Medicine Primary Care and Population Health.

The group currently has 165 providers with 12 more joining UW Medicine in the next couple of months. A third of the group's primary care providers are advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants, according to Fang.

The high demand has resulted from a combination of pandemic-related strains, healthcare professionals who have left the industry, and population growth in King County.

Some current medical students are deciding to meet that demand and stay in the very region where they were trained.

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"You know, family medicine, primary care, was front-line for people," said Anna May, a fourth-year University of Washington School of Medicine student.

May, who is Navajo and Laguna Pueblo, said she was inspired to become a doctor when she was a kid.

"Growing up, I had a physician who was a woman of color and so for me, it was never a question of if that could be the type of life I live," May said.

May grew up in Maple Valley, attended Gonzaga University for undergraduate studies, and enrolled at the University of Washington for medical school.

"It makes me excited that I do get to stay around and continue to learn from such amazing mentors as well as mentor the next," May said.

She plans on entering a career in primary care, upon graduating from her program that was top-ranked again in 2023's U.S. News & World Report.

May will stay in the Seattle area and will do her family medicine residency at Swedish Hospital Cherry Hill. Students who graduate from UW School of Medicine do not necessarily enter careers at the UW Medicine clinics.

"A big part of it is, I wanted to stay close to my family, close to my home," May said.

Dr. Tomoko Sairenji, an associate professor at UW Medicine's Family Medicine Department, is one of May's mentors and said recruiting for the next generation of primary care physicians is as important as ever.

Students at UW medical school serve a five-state network for its WWAMI program, which includes the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

"Between 60 to 75 percent of our students stay in residency programs within the five-state region, which is a pretty high retention rate," Sairenji said.

Sairenji said there is also a need for underserved areas.

"There's communities that are more rural that really need more healthcare professionals, so I would say we're pretty lucky here in Seattle, in the area, that people want to be here," Sairenji said.

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