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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Funding key to growth of medical education

The politics of establishing a second medical school shouldn’t impede efforts to ramp up medical education in Spokane this year. The University of Washington and Washington State University both agree that many more students are needed. The state can’t wait.

The Legislature passed a bill that allows WSU Spokane to seek accreditation for its medical school, and the governor signed it. However, that process will take time, and the first graduates of the new school won’t materialize for at least a decade. In the meantime, the Legislature shouldn’t back away from its commitment to the WWAMI program run by the University of Washington.

WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) wants funding for 60 students, up from the 40 now enrolled for each of the first two years. But the House and Senate budgets diverge dramatically in funding medical school slots.

Over the next biennium, the Senate budget allots $2.5 million to WSU to pursue accreditation and the same amount to the University of Washington. But as UW leaders note, that isn’t enough to fund the current 40-student load, let alone a desired increase. The university can’t simply shift the students over to Seattle. If medical education in Washington is going to expand, it’s going to expand in Spokane.

That’s heartening, and the House budgets $9.4 million for UW in Spokane, which would fund the 20-student increase for two years.

WWAMI’s goal is to reach 120 medical students in Spokane, but if the Senate proposal stands UW officials say the number of slots would actually decline.

Not to worry, say Senate leaders. The lowball amount is merely a prod to force the schools back into a relationship. This will all get worked out during final budget negotiations.

That’s somewhat encouraging, but if this attempt at marriage counseling fails, the state will still need the slots. The two schools initially talked about teaming up on a request to dramatically increase medical education funding, but that alliance broke apart when WSU decided to seek its own school.

UW officials told the editorial board recently that they don’t want to monopolize medical education, and they point out that they did not try to block the bill that allowed for a second school. They reiterated that Spokane is important to WWAMI’s future plans.

The need for more students, wherever they train, has been well-documented.

By 2030, the state will need 4,000 more doctors, including 1,700 in primary care. WWAMI rejects about 85 percent of Washington applicants. Twice as many Washingtonians study out of state than in-state. The paucity of slots, along with a shortage of post-graduate internships, makes it difficult for rural counties to draw physicians.

UW officials worry that a rivalry narrative will damage the overall cause of medical school expansion. Apple Cup partisanship is fine for football, but not medical education.

We agree, and hope lawmakers don’t use the “divorce” as an excuse to shortchange an urgent need.

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