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GU weighs med school role

Officials considering collaboration with UW to boost physician training

The University of Washington’s plans to expand physician training in Spokane may have found a powerful new partner: Gonzaga University.

The private Jesuit school announced Monday it is exploring the possibility of a public-private partnership with UW, which pitched the idea to Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh.

“We are really at the beginning of having what I consider to be the framing of discussions about this,” McCulloh said. “It wasn’t something that I had thought about, much less imagined, so it’s required a fair amount of discussion with our team.”

Triggering the possibility was this fall’s breakup of a long-standing partnership between UW and Washington State University, which wants to establish its own medical school on Spokane’s Riverpoint campus and on Monday collected support from two state lawmakers.

UW, which has one of the nation’s top-ranked medical schools, wants to double the number of students in its Spokane branch and expand instruction here to all four years. But it now operates in WSU facilities.

It’s up to the Legislature to decide whether to fund both UW’s expansion and WSU’s proposed new medical school, or pick between the two.

Each aims to help alleviate Washington’s rural physician shortage and make sure there will be enough new doctors to replace those reaching retirement age in coming years.

But a Spokane medical school also has long been sought by city leaders as a way to help boost the region’s economy. A study conducted for Greater Spokane Incorporated predicts a four-year medical school would create more than 9,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic benefit over 20 years.

Teaming up with Gonzaga would give UW a partner with deep Spokane roots and a national following.

“Gonzaga is a first-rate university,” UW President Michael Young said. “Given the quality of Gonzaga … it just seemed like a good conversation to start.”

No time frame has been set for when a potential agreement might be reached.

McCulloh said Gonzaga has looked over the proposed curriculum but other details, including potential infrastructure needed to house a joint medical school, haven’t even been broached.

“I do think that there are a number of fundamental assets, if you will, that they perceive Gonzaga will bring,” he said, citing the quality of the university’s graduate and undergraduate health sciences faculty. “We believe Gonzaga delivers exceptional academic programs and have had considerable success for a long time in preparing students for the medical industry.”

About 16 percent of the university’s students are enrolled in the School of Nursing and Human Physiology, which provides training in a wide variety of medical fields. Of those enrolled in the human physiology program, about 17 percent continue on to medical schools.

McCulloh said Gonzaga and UW officials plan to meet with various community leaders in the coming weeks to discuss the potential partnership.

The overall goal, he said, is to expand medical education and boost biomedical research in Spokane, which means the community should be a part of that effort.

“The expansion of medical education and research is a top priority for Spokane,” McCulloh said, “and if Gonzaga can meaningfully assist in the achievement of that goal, we feel an obligation to seriously consider how best to do so.”

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