Washington State University’s bid for its own medical school appears to enjoy substantial statewide support.
A poll conducted for Gallatin Public Affairs shows 81.2 percent of state residents favor WSU establishing its own medical school. Support dips to 72.8 percent when the question is posed along with an explanation that WSU is seeking legislative approval and additional state money for the effort.
Either way, though, the results are dramatic and could help propel the WSU proposal through the Legislature next year.
“I think it shows that the people of the state realize that having only one medical school, and a monopoly on medical education, isn’t the way to move forward,” state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said Monday.
The medical school questions were part of Gallatin’s annual Washington Business Survey, which examines a series of statewide issues.
The poll was conducted for Gallatin by Boise-based GS Strategies, which surveyed 400 likely voters across Washington, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
Although Gallatin has been hired by WSU to help with statewide outreach on the proposed medical school, Jeffrey Bell, the company’s Spokane partner, said it was a logical topic to include in the annual survey because of the broad interest in the issue.
WSU is seeking $2.5 million from state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session to begin establishing a four-year medical school in Spokane that it hopes to open by 2017 and eventually accept 120 new students per year.
At the same time, the University of Washington will seek additional state money to expand its existing physician training program here, initially doubling the number of new students to 80 per year and eventually growing to 120.
The two universities used to be partners in the program, which is part of the UW medical school, but split up this fall over differences in how best to meet Washington’s growing medical needs, particularly in underserved rural communities. UW now is looking to recruit Gonzaga University as its new Spokane partner.
Expanded medical education opportunities at WSU’s Spokane campus are seen as key to the Inland Northwest’s economic development strategy.
A study conducted for Greater Spokane Incorporated concluded that a medical school serving 120 new students per year would create about 9,000 jobs and boost the regional economy by $1.6 billion over 20 years.
The survey shows greater support for the WSU proposal within Eastern Washington, where an additional 200 likely voters were added to the response pool to ensure large enough samples for regional analysis.
According to the survey, general support for a WSU medical school among Eastern Washington respondents was 86.1 percent but fell to 76.3 percent when asked in a way that included additional state spending would be necessary.
A portion of the survey, including the medical school questions, also was sent to business interests on both sides of the state.
Among Seattle businesses who responded, 53.9 percent favor an independent WSU medical school – the smallest margin of the regional subgroups surveyed.
WSU President Elson Floyd said he was pleased with the overall results.
“It reinforces much of what we’ve been saying about the need,” Floyd said Monday. “It will be helpful in providing an independent view, based on polling, for legislators.”
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