The University of Washington on Monday criticized as “seriously flawed” a feasibility study supporting a second public medical school that would be established in Spokane by Washington State University.
WSU commissioned the study, released last week, that concluded WSU could educate medical students at a lower cost than UW.
That conclusion is based on the UW School of Medicine receiving about $94.6 million in state funding in 2011. The WSU consultants preparing the study simply divided that $94.6 million figure by 440 medical students to arrive at a per-student cost to the state of $215,000.
UW regent Orin Smith called those findings “an unfortunate and extremely misleading error” in the report intended to guide state lawmakers who will be asked to weigh the merits of a second state-funded medical school
In a sharply worded letter to WSU Regent Mike Worthy regarding the report, Smith noted that the $94.6 million includes federal research funds and student tuition, not just state funds. Furthermore, the blend of state, federal and private money funds the work of some 4,500 people throughout the UW medical school system — not just the 440 medical students.
Smith said a more realistic figure is $70,000 per student in state support plus tuition.
Using that formula, the WSU study estimated it would cost the state about $60,000 per student at a WSU-run medical school in Spokane after a 10-year phase-in to enrollment of 120 students per class, said WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown. She noted medical schools use different funding models to arrive at state cost per student estimates.
The differences are the latest barbs between the rival universities regarding the effectiveness of WWAMI, the 40-year-old program that trains doctors for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho through state schools and UW Medical School.
The lingering shortage of doctors in rural communities across Eastern Washington, however, spurred WSU administrators to announce last spring intentions to create an independent medical school on the fledgling WSU-Spokane campus.
The move prompted further tensions between Washington’s two biggest public universities.
So far, lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee have declined to take sides.
Based on the study, WSU regents on Friday approved starting the accreditation process for a second public medical school in Spokane.
Smith, the UW regent, called the conclusion that WSU would be cheaper for the state a “critical and highly misleading error that requires immediate attention and consideration.” WSU’s consultants didn’t contact UW in preparing the study, he said, and he asked that “WSU issue an immediate correction.”
But Myra Hurt, who helped author the study for WSU as an independent consultant with MGT of America, dismissed UW’s criticism.
“Regardless of all the wonderful things they might or might not do with that money, the end result is the same,” she said – UW educates 440 medical students a year with the money it receives from the state.
She acknowledged that UW School of Medicine is “a very complex enterprise,” but said, “from my position as an outsider, the real point is does Washington the state need physicians, and where do they need them?” Hurt is senior associate dean for research and graduate programs at Florida State University.
Smith’s critique also targeted the study’s assumptions that state funding directed toward WWAMI students in Spokane would instead flow to WSU.
Those funds were provided by the Washington legislature specifically for WWAMI.
“We cannot spend the same public dollar twice,” Smith told WSU’s Worthy. Taking that money away from WWAMI threatens the continued existence of the 40-year-old program in Spokane.
In deciding to pursue accreditation for a medical school, WSU regents made a point of saying they wanted to maintain the school’s commitment to WWAMI as its largest partner. A university spokeswoman said WSU regents would respond to Smith’s letter.
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