February 27, 2010 in Business

Doctor shortage foreseen

Add medical students in Spokane, study says
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Eastern Washington will need almost 1,000 new doctors by 2025, and to fill that prescription the University of Washington School of Medicine should quadruple, if not quintuple, the number of students on its Spokane campus, according to a report issued this week.

Even if the school immediately began ramping up the present enrollment of 20, the report says, additional graduates would not be practicing medicine until 2017. It will take another seven years to get the optimal output of 100 students into clinics and hospitals.

The study prepared by officials from UW, Washington State University, Spokane hospitals and businesses says that, even at its maximum of 100 students per year, the expanded school will provide only 9 percent of the 4,100 doctors Eastern Washington must have to care for a bigger, older population in 2025. And that assumes a ratio of doctors to patients much lower than the national average, outside Spokane, Walla Walla and Chelan counties.

UW launched its Spokane program less than two years ago with 20 students who pursue first-, third- and fourth-year class work at the Riverpoint campus. They also take clerkships with doctors around Eastern Washington to get hands-on experience with patients.

They take their second year of studies on the UW Seattle campus, as do 40 other students from Pullman and Moscow. All are enrolled in the WWAMI program, which makes a medical education available to students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Training those students as close as possible to their home states increases the chances they will return to care for their neighbors. An expanded Spokane campus, coupled with training rotations with rural doctors, will do the same thing for Eastern Washington, said Brian Pitcher, chancellor of WSU-Spokane.

“That’s our challenge,” he said. “To tie them here.”

Backers are seeking $3.5 million in additional capital from the Legislature for design of an enlarged Biomedical and Health Sciences Building on the Riverpoint campus.

Pitcher said plans now call for a $45 million, 60,000-square-foot building to accommodate laboratories for the WSU College of Pharmacy and other programs. The building between the Academic Center and Spokane Falls Boulevard would be enlarged to 105,000 square feet to handle the additional medical students, at a total cost of $80 million.

But the design funds are not included in the House of Representatives’ capital budget. Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said he is optimistic that would be possible in the Senate, but only if $700 million in new revenues are authorized to close the state’s budget gap.

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