For One Alaska Medical Student, Dunleavy's Vetoes Already Hurting

Stephanie Weter plans to return to practice in rural Alaska.
Credit Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

Stephanie Weter, a medical student on rotation at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, is already feeling the impact of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's vetoes on her life. 

Weter wants to stay in rural Alaska to practice medicine.

"I have no question I am going to practice in Alaska," Weter said.

Weter is Koyukun Athabascan, and a Huslia tribal member. She grew up in the small, rural communities of interior Alaska, including Galena and Tanana. Weter graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, earning a master’s and bachelor's there. She worked for years as a teacher, then she changed course.

Weter is currently a student at the University of Washington, part of the WWAMI regional medical program. She’s the only Alaska Native student in her year’s class. Weter turned down cheaper schools because she wanted to stay closer to home.

"I did have multiple acceptances, but for someone from a really small community like me, it was a pretty intimidating thought to go out of state for medical school."

WWAMI reduces her tuition at the University of Washington and lets her complete much of the training in Alaska, but that program is on hold as lawmakers try to muster enough votes to reverse Gov. Dunleavy’s vetoes. Those include a $134 million cut to the University of Alaska. If the vetoes stay, Weter could face higher tuition.

"I mean the thought that my tuition this coming year could be close to $70,000 is pretty mind-blowing when I could have went to university where it’s under $20,000.  You get someone like me who comes from a really small community; I don’t come from a family of money; the figures are crazy to think about the amount of debt I could take on."Weter said.

And that’s not all. The vetoes could cripple the education system that Weter and her mother used and counted on to educate the next generation. Weter’s daughter completed high school this year. Weter says that her daughter could have graduated a year early, but chose to stay in school so that she could qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, which is also on hold because of the governor’s vetoes.

"She has two concerns: one, that she doesn't have the funding, but the other is the university budget cuts, and who knows what they’ll have to offer, and if it's going to be a program she wants to pursue," Weter said.

Weter says that she will return to rural Alaska to practice medicine; it’s her home. But she worries that Dunleavy’s cuts will cripple the medical labor pipeline and make it harder for rural Alaskans and Alaska Natives to get the healthcare they need.