University of Montana doubles down on healthcare education

Healthcare education a priority

MISSOULA – The University of Montana provides more health career programs than any other campus in the state, and now the University has launched a new UM Health & Medicine initiative.

University President Royce Engstrom announced the creation of the initiative during his mid-year address Feb. 3. The new organization will recruit students into health professions and create new degree programs to meet employment demands and strengthen relationships with partners committed to regional graduate medical education.

Montana will need 40 percent more health care workers in the next decade, according to UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

This translates to an additional 7,000 workers by 2025 to care for Montana’s growing and aging population. Forecasts such as this mean that UM must become even more engaged in preparing health care professionals. “There is an ever-widening gap between the health needs of Montanans and our ability to supply a workforce to meet those needs,” Reed Humphrey, the initiative leader and dean of UM’s College of Health Professions & Biomedical Sciences, said.

“It struck me when I arrived on this campus years ago that we have a lot of really strong programs but lacked a common identity or entry point, mostly because programs grew up in different colleges on the campus.

That made it difficult to understand how to navigate a career path in health professions. We needed to fix that, and UMHM is designed to do exactly that.” He said the initiative will provide a framework for UM’s health and medicine programs, which are widespread across campus and includes UM’s two-year Missoula College. UMHM will provide a common entry point, or portal, for students interested in health careers. He also wants the organization to generate and support a “community of learners” among its students – a group that will synergize and enhance the learning process at UM. “Next fall when students arrive, we’ll meet with those who have declared an interest in health and medicine as a career objective, and we’ll design experiences for them on campus so they can make intelligent choices about their curriculum and career options,” he said. “And this isn’t just for prospective students – we plan to reach out to our existing student body to inform them about these opportunities.” Roberta Evans is another designer of the initiative and dean of UM’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, where “human sciences” refer to a portfolio of physical and mental health programs that constitute nearly half the college.

She said the UMHM effort is transdisciplinary and will train professionals in the teamwork required by people now working in hospitals to treat the whole person. “Currently, the many great academic health opportunities across UM appear like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” Evans said. “This program will bring the pieces together, clarify the options available and also showcase our extraordinary successes. So I think this will unify our messaging, and the opportunities are going to just explode.” She said the initiative will inform students about all the practical experiences, clinics, centers and research opportunities available to them. It also will reach out to grow and strengthen partnerships with area hospitals, local nonprofits and national funding agencies.

Hospitals in Missoula and Kalispell already have thrown their support behind the effort, which will allow the University, hospitals and clinics to engage collaboratively to improve the provision of interprofessional health care and research. “As a leading health care provider in western Montana, we are thrilled to see the University of Montana establish the Health & Medicine initiative to build the workforce foundation that will ultimately benefit patients in our region,” said Jeff Fee, regional chief executive for Providence Health & Services, Montana.

Humphrey said UM graduates in health and medicine programs on campus essentially boast 100 percent placement rates. “If students aren’t employed at graduation or upon licensure, it’s largely because they choose not to be employed at graduation,” he said. “Frankly, if you are a student interested in going into medicine or a health professions career and you are considering where in Montana or even the region you want to study, there is no better place than UM, given the range of academic opportunities but as importantly, on-campus experiences and training.”

The University of Montana’s Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana has received a record number of medical student applications this year. With more than 800 applicants for 10 training positions, the success of the nearly 3-year-old residency program is being felt and celebrated during this resident interviewing season. The program prepares family physicians with a focus on comprehensive training that is needed to practice effectively for rural and underserved areas in Montana.

The program welcomed its first class of 10 family medicine residents in July 2013, and the inaugural class will graduate at the end of June 2016. The creation of the program more than doubled the number of family medicine physicians being trained in Montana each year and is expected to have a significant impact on the state’s shortage of primary care doctors in rural communities. “We have been very fortunate to have recruited the faculty and residents that have built the program to date, with a clear focus on our mission of training family physicians to practice in the rural and underserved communities of Montana,” program director Dr. Ned Vasquez said. “Our recruiting season has been going very well, and we are optimistic about our prospects for recruiting a fourth excellent class.”

Program applicants undergo an intensive interview process, involving contact with current residents and faculty. The program especially strives to identify applicants who have some background or strong desire to work in rural areas. Interviewees will be ranked and matched through the National Resident Matching Program, which provides an objective and fair process for matching applicants and residency programs.

Notification of the match results will take place mid-March 2016, with a new class starting at the end of June 2016. Headquartered in Missoula, the program is sponsored by UM and affiliated with the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Network. The program’s three sponsoring hospitals in western Montana include Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center. Residents are involved in continuity clinic training at Partnership Health Center in Missoula and Flathead Community Health Center in Kalispell. Additionally, the program works with an extensive rural training network of nine sites, including Blackfeet Community Hospital, Northwest Community Health Center, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Clark Fork Valley Hospital, St. Luke Community Healthcare, Community Physicians Group-Stevensville, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, Community Hospital of Anaconda and Barrett Hospital and Healthcare.

For more information visit

Contact: Reed Humphrey, dean, UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, 406-243-4341,; Roberta Evans, dean, Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, 406-243-5877,

More information is online at


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