Washington medical school helps Montana student come home - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Washington medical school helps Montana student come home

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For almost as long as he can remember, Great Falls native Kolton Fraser has wanted to be a doctor. For almost as long as he can remember, Great Falls native Kolton Fraser has wanted to be a doctor.

Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences may be the best medical school you've never heard of.

Since being incorporated in 2005, the school in Yakima, Washington has graduated almost 500 doctors, including many who serve the rural northwest.

There is a concern among health experts about a physician shortage in rural areas.

PNWU president Dr. Keith Watson says there are a number of reasons for the shortage, including critical access and rural hospitals on the verge of closing.  He also says the decreasing number of health insurance plans available to patients due to health care legislation plays a role.

Watson says the numbers in Montana are cause for concern.

"There are 55 designated medically under-served areas in this state alone," said Dr. Watson.  "Couple that with the number of doctors who are over the age of 60 in this state, well over 700 doctors in that category, and it means that we've got a lot of replacing to do, in addition to making up for deficits."

For almost as long as he can remember, Great Falls native Kolton Fraser has wanted to be a doctor.  After graduating in pre-med a later earning a masters of Science from Montana State University, he enrolled at PNWU.

"I have an identical twin brother, multi handicapped, he's been through 31 surgeries in his 29 years of life," said Fraser.  "So I grew up really involved with a lot of physicians, a lot of surgeries, a lot of aftermath, a lot of bedside manners, and I realized at a really young age that I wanted to be a physician."

PNWU is an Osteopathic Medical school, emphasizing a more holistic medical approach.

Watson says the school stacks up well against other med schools.

"We are above the mean and median for admissions criteria for all the osteopathic schools in the country," said Dr. Watson.  "As far as competitiveness for residencies, we're one of the few medical schools that can claim a 100 percent of placement of our graduates in the last six years."

Fraser says he was lucky to learn about the school and its ability to bring him back home.

"They were able to get their students back on a core rotation schedule here in Great Falls for two years, versus the University of Washington which has their program, the WWAMI program, that is, at least at the time, one year and that was down in Bozeman and essentially they'd only be able to get me back for maybe six weeks for certain rotations in Great Falls," said Fraser.   "My goal all along was to get to Great Falls because that's where my family is and I want to take care of my family.  I'm able to take care of my brother and celebrate holidays with my family and that's a little thing but it goes a long way when you're studying all day every day."

For Fraser, his rotation in Great Falls will last another year.  He's currently working in the OB-GYN Department at Benefis Health System but hopes for a career in emergency medicine.  He may have to leave home again to do a residency elsewhere, but his ultimate destination remains the same.

"It's a three year residency," said Fraser.  "So I'll go to another state that has the emergency medicine residency and then come back here.  I plan on practicing here."

PNWU also works with Montana hospitals in Billings, Missoula, and Kalispell.

Almost 50 percent of the school's Montana students have or are completing their rotations in the Treasure State.

Click here to visit the PNWU website.

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