Premera Blue Cross Invests in Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences’ Rural Medicine Education Program

Mountlake Terrace, Wash., Nov. 18, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- As part of its commitment to addressing healthcare challenges facing rural communities, Premera Blue Cross today announced a $5.5 million grant to support Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences’ (PNWU) rural family medicine educational pathway and training, which was developed in collaboration with MultiCare Health System, a leading not-for-profit healthcare organization.

This comprehensive program will establish a new rural family medicine residency in Omak, Washington, accepting two new residents every year. It will also include enhanced recruitment efforts, specialized curriculum to prepare medical students for the residency, and a living stipend during students’ rural-focused clinical rotations. Students in the residency program will complete a year of clinical rotations at the MultiCare Tacoma Family Medicine clinic and two years of training at Family Health Centers, a community-based health care provider in Omak.

“The gap between rural and urban healthcare access is widening, which is why it’s critical to create more direct pathways for medical students to become physicians in rural and underserved areas,” said Jeffrey Roe, President and CEO of Premera Blue Cross. “Premera is excited to support the efforts of PNWU and MultiCare to build a program that will ensure there is a strong pipeline of physicians focused on the needs of rural communities for years to come.”

A 2017 study from the National Rural Health Association found people living in rural areas have less access to primary and preventative care, and are more likely to experience chronic disease, disability and premature death. While family physicians provide 42 percent of care in rural communities, a quarter of rural medical training opportunities in Washington were unfilled last year. Increasing capacity for rural family medicine residencies remains important in the efforts to improve healthcare for the more than one million people living in Washington’s rural areas.

“The pathway to rural practice has many side routes,” said Dr. Russell Maier, PNWU’s Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education. “This novel track from matriculation into medical school to graduation from residency will ensure not all wander off the path during the seven years of training for rural family medicine.”

Two medical students recently started a rotation in Omak through this program. The first full class of students will begin their clinical work in Omak in August 2022.

PNWU is in Yakima, Wash., with 16 sites in rural communities throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. This program expands their work with MultiCare to create more robust education and training opportunities in rural settings.

“MultiCare has partnered with PNWU for many years to help train new physicians to serve rural communities and to expand those residency programs,” said Bill Robertson, President and CEO of MultiCare. “It is heartening to see other organizations like Premera — another close partner of ours — engage with this important work.”

Premera and MultiCare also joined forces together three years ago to change how healthcare is delivered in the Pacific Northwest. This started with Peak Care, an exclusive health plan designed for Pierce, Spokane and Thurston counties where consumers pay less, have easier and more timely access to local primary and specialty care providers, and use of the latest digital tools for navigating their health care needs online.

Since 2018, Premera has committed more than $58 million to improve access to care in rural areas. The company is focusing its investments in the following areas: physician, nurse and health aide recruitment and training; clinical integration of behavioral health; programs to increase the capacity of mental health crisis centers in rural areas; and small equipment grants to rural providers.

Learn more about how Premera is investing in rural communities.

About Premera Blue Cross
Premera Blue Cross is a leading health plan in the Pacific Northwest, providing comprehensive health benefits and tailored services to about 2.5 million people, from individuals to Fortune 100 companies. For more information, visit

About Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) is a grassroots, non-profit health sciences university established in 2005 by a group of visionary community leaders in Washington’s fertile Yakima Valley. PNWU educates and trains health care professionals emphasizing service among rural and medically underserved communities throughout the Northwest.

Based in Yakima, Washington, PNWU’s 70-acre campus boasts a collaboration-inspiring array of health sciences disciplines, all united under the university’s mission of educating and training health care professionals emphasizing service in rural and medically underserved areas throughout the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

About MultiCare
MultiCare is a not-for-profit health care organization with more than 20,000 team members, including employees, providers and volunteers. MultiCare has been caring for our community for well over a century, since the founding of Tacoma’s first hospital and today is the largest community-based, locally governed health system in the state of Washington.

MultiCare’s comprehensive system of health includes numerous primary care, urgent care and specialty services — including MultiCare Indigo Urgent CarePulse Heart Institute and MultiCare Rockwood Clinic, the largest multispecialty clinic in the Inland Northwest region.

 MultiCare’s network of care includes 11 hospitals:


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