The Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, the centerpiece of the Spokane medical school, will be ready for occupancy in the fall. The $60 million facility was designed to accommodate first- and second-year classes of more than 80 students, possibly as many as 120.
The five states that funnel future students through the University of Washington-based WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) program need every one of them, especially because their training focuses on the primary care needed in small communities characteristic to most of the region.
WWAMI annually graduates 220 would-be doctors for those five states. By comparison, Missouri has five medical schools graduating 1,000 students. If the Northwest did not offer a quality of life and excellent medical facilities attractive to doctors from outside the region, many residents would not have access to a doctor.
Expanding the UW School of Medicine into Spokane was intended to increase capacity and model new training methods drawing on Washington State University’s schools of nursing and pharmacology, as well as assets from other local institutions. Students, teachers and administrators have been enthusiastic about the progress made since the first students arrived in fall 2008.
But the critical second year of training uproots the Riverpoint students, many of whom elect to return for their third and fourth years. The biomedical building is intended to keep those students in Spokane.
Only 17 will do so next fall. That is short of the 20 expected, a disappointment to WSU President Elson Floyd, who has dedicated a lot of university resources to the Spokane campus, including half the cost of the biomedical building, and has moved the pharmacy program from Pullman to Spokane.
The community has also pitched in, and Floyd is clearly dedicated to fulfilling the vision of medical school backers who hope the program will become the nucleus of a major medical treatment and research center – the sooner the better. With WSU in the lead if that’s what it takes.
His resolve is welcome. Floyd has been an excellent champion for WSU and its four campuses. Appointing former state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown as chancellor in Spokane was a force multiplier.
But so, too, is the alliance with UW, the best hope for accreditation that can fast-track development of a first-rate medical school in Spokane. Dr. Paul Ramsey, dean of the UW School of Medicine, says he remains dedicated to that goal, resources permitting. One of the constraints he and Brown identified – funding for graduate medical education – is tied to Medicare, and slots have been capped since 1997. The Affordable Care Act has encouraged the opening of more medical schools, but the graduate medical education cap remains.
That must change, or Spokane’s will be just one of several medical schools affected, and Floyd will not be the only frustrated administrator.