The University of Washington has unveiled a new website touting its plan to expand medical school operations in Spokane.
Featuring scenic panoramas of the Lilac City's skyline, shots of students in laboratories and iconic Riverfront Park attractions, the website makes the pitch that expansion of the UW medical school's existing program in Spokane is the most cost-effective way to train more physicians to help alleviate rural doctor shortages.
It also comes just as the Legislature prepares to debate whether to bankroll Washington State University's request for an initial $2.5 million over the next two years just to seek national accreditation for a medical school of its own in Spokane. Annual operating costs would be higher once cleared to open.
“We want all Washingtonians to understand the many ways we are continuing to address our state’s doctor shortage in a cost-effective manner,” Randy Hodgins, the University of Washington’s vice president for external affairs, said in prepared remarks. “We also want to be very clear to our Spokane colleagues that we are committed, and look forward to further growth in eastern Washington.”
The two universities used to be partners in the existing Spokane physician-training program, which is part of the UW School of Medicine's five-state WWAMI program, but parted ways last year over disagreements surrounding WSU's push to establish its own medical school.
UW says its medical school, which was again ranked top in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for rural and family medicine, costs taxpayers less per student than WSU's anticipated operating costs.
It's important to note, however, that the UW and WSU disagree with each other's math. WSU has a dedicated website touting its medical school plan as well and presents estimates showing its plan would be cheaper per student than what UW charges to train each doctor.
Lawmakers are growing frustrated with the conflicting financial assessments from each of the universities.
One reason it's becoming an issue is because even though WSU currently is seeking enough just to get accredited, the Legislature must build budgets that balance out over the next four years. That means lawmakers need to know what kind of spending would be required not just to get accredited but how much would be needed for the following two years as well.
Currently, the UW is training 40 first-year and nine second-year medical students in Spokane and wants to steadily increase those numbers, with the possibility of growing to 120 per class year later. Third- and fourth-year training typically is done at clinical sites throughout the state.
WSU also envisions a Spokane-based medical school that eventually would serve 120 students per class.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this post included outdated UW enrollment figures.