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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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UW to legislators: WSU can have med school – without $5.9M set aside for UW

OLYMPIA – If Washington State University wants to start its own medical school, it should do so without using $5.9 million set aside to expand University of Washington’s Spokane medical program, UW officials told legislators on Tuesday.

That money was budgeted for WSU as part of a plan to expand the number of medical school students in Spokane when the two universities were cooperating on UW’s program, Ian Goodhew, chief information officer for the UW School of Medicine, told a House committee. WSU shouldn’t get to spend it on plans that could lead to future students; UW should be able to spend it on students coming this year.

“We would go backwards in Spokane,” Goodhew said. “Whatever this committee decides to do, first and foremost do no harm to the University of Washington.”

The House Higher Education Committee was considering a bill to amend the law giving UW exclusive rights to medical education at state universities, which stems from a nearly century-old fight between the two schools over which majors each should offer. The bill doesn’t mention money.

WSU wants to build a new medical school on a “collaborative model,” President Elson Floyd said, both with UW’s medical school program in Spokane and WSU’s schools of Nursing and Pharmacy on the Riverpoint campus. The push for a second medical school is sometimes described as a conflict between the two universities, but Floyd insisted “it’s far from that.”

Rather, it’s an effort to address the need for more doctors in the state, he said, particularly in rural areas and in specialties like family practice. The students would spend their third and fourth years in medical facilities in Spokane and other cities where WSU has a presence, like Vancouver, Everett and the Tri-Cities.

The law restricting medical education to UW is old and deserves a review, Goodhew said. The two universities have collaborated for years on medical education in Spokane under UW’s WWAMI program, which trains students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. That program plans to expand from 20 students a year in Spokane to 40 this year, and the state’s 2013-15 budget sets aside $3.8 million for UW and $5.9 million for WSU for that expansion, Goodhew said.

If WSU keeps its share of the money to develop the new school it is proposing, UW would not be able to expand in Spokane as planned, he said. The Legislature should reallocate that money for UW to “teach students now, not down the road,” he said.

But Ken Roberts, acting dean of the WSU College of Medical Sciences, said money in the 2013-15 budget wasn’t solely for WWAMI but includes expenses for all medical sciences. Language in the budget sets aside $7.4 million total for WSU Spokane, with $2 million specifically for equipment needed for biomedical and health research and the remainder to expand “medical education and associated biomedical research” to support basic sciences teaching in WWAMI.

UW is seeking $8 million in the 2015-17 budget for medical school education in Spokane; WSU wants $2.5 million to seek accreditation for its school. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2015-17 budget doesn’t have money for either request at this time.

The bill the committee was considering has broad support in the House, with 65 co-sponsors. Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, the prime sponsor, said it simply changes “an archaic law” and the full cost of WSU’s proposal isn’t known yet.

Would he be willing to delay passage of the bill for a year for a legislative study, Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, asked.

No, replied Riccelli; studies already have been done, and the Legislature doesn’t need another one sitting on a shelf: “That puts us down a dangerous path. We need to move and we need to move now.”

The committee vote to decide if the bill should be considered by the full House hasn’t been scheduled. 

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