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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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UW should expand med training in Spokane, panel says

The University of Washington Medical School should “proceed as soon as possible” to expand and modernize its program in Spokane, a special advisory council set up by the university said Tuesday. 

It should “aggressively pursue regional expansion opportunities”, the council said, with a special nod to the Tri-Cities, where it said expanded residencies and medical education are priorities for the business and health care community. It also should develop more residency programs, particularly for rural and underserved areas.

The special Presidential Advisory Council on Medical Education Access and Affordability, an 11-member body headed by former Gov. Dan Evans, is silent on whether Washington State University should develop its own medical school in Spokane. It does say the two universities should work together on a plan to provide medical education in the state and specifically for Spokane.

UW operates a five-state consortium known as WWAMI – for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – which was innovative when it started 43 years ago and has been successful and efficient, Evans said: “It needs to be expanded, modernized and adjusted so it can continue to produce high-quality physicians for the next 40 years.”

 The two universities will ask for money for separate medical school programs in Spokane in the upcoming legislative session. UW is seeking $8 million to have more slots for first- and second-year students at the five-state WWAMI program located on WSU-Spokane campus, while WSU is seeking $2.5 million for to begin hiring staff and applying for accreditation for a new med school.

From today's press release:

The University of Washington’s expansion of its medical school in Spokane and an increase in residency positions are among the ways to best meet the economic and health care needs in Spokane and throughout the state, according to an advisory council chairman’s report released today. 

The 11-member council, chaired by former Washington Gov. Dan Evans, voted unanimously on a comprehensive set of five recommendations.  

In Spring 2014, UW President Michael K. Young announced “Next Generation WWAMI,” an effort to build on the success of the program named for the five states it serves (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). The initiative includes significant expansion of Washington medical students and biomedical research in Spokane; adoption of a new state-of-the-art medical education curriculum; and expansion of training opportunities in underserved areas across the state. 

Young convened the Presidential Advisory Council on Medical Education Access and Affordability to assess the health care and economic needs of the both the Spokane community and the state, and recommend how “Next Generation WWAMI” can best meet these needs. The council was not asked to determine if a separately accredited medical school is necessary or should be pursued by WSU, but the council stated in the report that it expects the UW and WSU “to be aligned in a plan for providing medical education in the state of Washington,” specifically related to the needs and objectives of the Spokane community. 

“The WWAMI concept was unique and highly innovative when it was started 43 years ago to meet the need for physicians to practice in rural communities,” said Evans. “Nothing like it had ever been tried before. It has proved remarkably successful and efficient. Times have changed and it was worth asking this advisory council to take a fresh look at it and suggest what needs to be done to meet current needs in medical care. We concluded the model is excellent. It needs to be expanded, modernized, and adjusted so it can continue to produce high quality physicians for the next forty years.” 

  • UW School of Medicine proceed with planned expansion to 120 medical students per class in Spokane as soon as possible. 
  • UW School of Medicine aggressively pursue regional expansion opportunities in additional communities across the state. The Council specifically noted their impressive meeting in Tri-Cities, where expanded residencies and medical education are seen as key priorities for the business and healthcare community. 
  • UW School of Medicine provide a specific plan for research and commercialization activities designed in conjunction with its medical education program expansion. Looking beyond a four-year medical school, the Spokane community indicated that research and commercialization opportunities in the region are a key component of UW School of Medicine’s expansion there, but want more detail on how the research will be developed and implemented. 
  • UW School of Medicine include residency expansion, specifically in rural and underserved areas, as a key component of the next generation of WWAMI. UW School of Medicine should work with education partners and healthcare providers to identify immediate, near-term opportunities for investment and growth in residencies. 

Finally, a survey of WWAMI first-year and clinical assistant deans provided recommendations to make the program more effective and efficient for partners. These included providing additional administrative support and resources, especially as the program continues to grow; focusing on outcomes rather than process when evaluating which aspects of WWAMI are most efficiently centralized and which are most efficiently decentralized; proactively engaging with stakeholders and making them feel that their input is not only heard, but also valued and prioritized; identifying a more efficient management structure; and instituting increased transparency and accountability measures in operations and outcomes, particularly in the use of partner-state funds. 

“I want to express my deep appreciation to Governor Evans and the members of the advisory council for their commitment and effort in looking at how the UW WWAMI model can serve our state’s health care needs going forward,” said Young. “They have provided a road map for where we need to get to and a number of specific recommendations for improving a program that has been the main driver in the UW’s ranking as the best primary care and rural medicine program in the nation. The entire state will benefit from their work.” 

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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