Spokane will have a four-year medical program with or without the help of the University of Washington, said Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University.
Floyd’s resolve comes on the heels of WSU’s disappointment that fewer second-year medical students are enrolled at the university’s budding Spokane campus than expected. He blames UW for failing to recruit more students.
“We want UW as a partner with us, but if they won’t, this is important enough to us that we’re going to have to plow our own way,” he said.
To that, UW President Michael Young said: “Good luck. That’s a multimillion-dollar task. They’d be very low-rated for a long time. It would take a lot of time before they’d be able to attract quality students. I’d be surprised if Washington wanted to use its resources that way.”
He added, Floyd’s comments are a reflection of the WSU president “not understanding how a medical school is run.”
WSU Spokane houses a branch of UW’s WWAMI program, which was established 40 years ago to provide doctor training for five Western states — Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
The program enrolls first-year medical school students across the five-state area who study in all five states. The goal has been to spur student interest in working in high-need areas, such as rural communities. Students typically return to UW Medical School in Seattle for their second year of instruction. But starting this fall, students can attend WSU Spokane for that crucial year because of a two-year pilot program.
WSU had expected to host 20 second-year students, but “UW decided only 17 students could attend WSU Spokane,” Floyd said Monday. Only students in Washington and a few in Idaho were asked if they wanted to attend WSU Spokane, not students from any other states. WSU officials think students from Montana would have found Spokane a good fit.
“Only 17 wanted to go to Spokane,” Young said. “It’s not a question of us saying we can only accommodate 17. But they (WSU) don’t have a medical school, so they don’t understand how it works.”
For WSU to separate its program from UW, it would take the approval of state and federal lawmakers and accreditation by a governing board. The university would also need to work with the federal government to fund medical residency spots.
Floyd said Monday that WSU administrators have talked with the federal delegation and state legislators and have had a good reception.
His ultimate goal is to fill the new health sciences building under construction on the Riverpoint campus, which is designed as a training ground for 80-120 medical students. The state-of-art facility cost $60 million, half of which was funded by the state. WSU is moving its School of Pharmacy into the building from the Pullman campus and recruiting biomedical researchers into its lab space.
A few years ago, the state funded 20 medical student spots in Spokane each year for two years. Those numbers are in addition to the 20 first-year medical students who are enrolled in Spokane each year. It’s called a pilot because accreditation for medical schools is complicated, said Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the UW School of Medicine.
“We are absolutely committed to growing that program in Spokane,” Ramsey said. “As health care professionals we are committed to the quality, growth and partnership with WSU and the Spokane community. We’ve been a partner for 40 years, and it’s our plan to be a partner for the next 40 years.”
He added, “the plans for growing the class are going to depend on us working together to provide the funding.”
Young said UW wouldn’t have launched the two-year pilot program for second-year students if the school didn’t think it would be successful. Floyd noted that his preference is to offer full four-year medical education in Spokane in collaboration with UW. If that doesn’t work, however, “The bottom line is Spokane deserves a school of medicine.”