A House bill provision proposed by Rep. Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.) would close the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences {Federal Page, Oct. 17}. Rep. Sabo argues that given the national fiscal crisis the military medical school is not justified and that military physicians can be trained for less cost at civilian medical schools.

For whatever reasons USUHS now finds itself in the spotlight and potentially on the budget chopping block, a review will afford Congress a timely opportunity to determine whether there is a higher public purpose for a federally sponsored medical school such as USUHS. If one looks beyond the military needs to other critical health care needs of the country and physician shortages of other federal programs, the answer is a resounding yes.

Training physicians to meet all the country's health care needs should be a national priority. The failure of medical education and the free enterprise system to meet the needs of the inner city and the rural underserved demands that the federal government assume a more creative leadership role in physician training.

One idea worth considering is to reorient USUHS to a national medical school dedicated solely to the purpose of training physicians for public service. Training military doctors would be one component of a much broader mission. Without question it is important that the U.S. armed services have an adequate pool of appropriately trained physicians. But is it not equally important that we produce appropriately trained physicians to serve America's less fortunate and to heal the open wounds of poverty and disease?

Lack of health care for America's underserved is a long-standing problem attributed in large measure to the lack of physicians who are appropriately trained, motivated and available to provide care for America's economically, culturally and geographically isolated people. Although more Americans are in desperate need of primary care physicians, fewer medical students are choosing primary care disciplines. Medical students who begin their training brimming with idealism and a keen desire for community service find themselves compelled to pursue other medical specialities and to opt for the higher salaries of for-profit driven medical organizations because of their enormous educational debt load.

One solution lies in reform, not closure, of USUHS. Under a new name, the National Medical School, its expanded mission would be to produce the most effective medical providers we can to meet our nation's neglected health care needs. Physicians would be trained not only for the U.S. armed services, but also for the U.S. Public Health Service, the Indian Health Service and other public service programs. Students would be selected not only for their academic qualifications, but also for their motivation and desire to serve the nation's needs in the capacity that best suits them: civilian and/or military service. In return for a paid education, they would be committed, prepared and obligated to serve the country.

By considering the establishment of a national medical school that would belong to the American people, Congress would demonstrate its own commitment to the health care needs of poorly served communities and special populations.

PAUL R. WRIGHT Executive Director American Medical Student Association Washington