Rural health care access in Washington rural counties and the Rural Health Initiative

Millions of Washington state residents live in primary care shortage areas and nearly 800,000 struggle to access minimum health care in rural Washington. Washington State University’s Rural Health Initiative (RHI) addresses the need for pharmacists in rural communities by placing WSU pharmacy students with a rural, independent pharmacy for six weeks.

Washington State pharmacy map

MEDICALLY UNDERSERVED AREAS & POPULATIONS — MUA and MUP designations identify areas within counties or populations as having a lack of access to primary care services. (2023)

  PHARMACY DESERTS — Towns located 10+ miles from their nearest pharmacy. (Source: Outcomes Telepharm, 2023)

   PHARMACY STUDENTS ROTATION SITES — Locations of where WSU Rural Health Initiative pharmacy students have completed their rotations. (through 2023)


Clicking on the above map will take you to an interactive ArcGIS map. The interactive map provides with more information about the pharmacy desert and rotation site locations. It also will provide you with these additional layers:

RURAL COUNTIES — Most counties of Washington are classified as rural as designated by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. Counties excluded from this list are Benton, Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom counties. (2021)

CRITICAL ACCESS HOSPITAL LOCATIONS — Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) are small hospitals with fewer than 25 beds in rural areas and can provide emergency acute care. There are 39 CAHs in Washington. Most CAHs are operated by public hospital districts. They are designated as such by the CAH Program as administered by the Washington State Department of Health’s Rural Health Plan. (2020)


Please note if you click off the default legend and turn on layers, you can configure the interactive map to show you the layers you desire.


The RHI, administered by the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, advances not only pharmacist care for rural Washington communities, it also provides much needed business education about the challenges of operating an independent pharmacy.

Some of the services the RHI hopes to bring to these medically underserved areas include: prescription services, immunizations, preventative care services, wellness screenings, collaborative care services, medication therapy management, chronic disease management, and follow-up and access to healthcare resources.


Read stories about a WSU student pharmacist in central Washington and a WSU alum who owns and operates an independent pharmacy on Vashon Island.

More about the Rural Health Initiative and how you can help support the work.

Watch a video of the RHI and its work.