Washington State University is pushing ahead with plans to establish its own Spokane-based medical school and expects to have its inaugural class of students enrolled for the fall semester in 2017.
Acknowledging that it’s an ambitious timeline, WSU President Elson Floyd said Monday a national search for the medical school’s founding dean already is underway. It will be directed by a panel of academic, medical and other community leaders, mostly from Eastern Washington.
The dean will be integral to the university’s efforts to secure accreditation of the new medical school.
The moves come as state lawmakers, who earlier this year gave WSU the authority to establish its own medical school, continue to debate how much to allocate for physician training over the next two years.
Both legislative chambers have earmarked the $2.5 million WSU says it needs over the next two years to get its medical school operational and ready to begin enrolling students.
But they disagree over how much to allocate the University of Washington, which wants to expand its existing medical school operations in Spokane. The House plan earmarks $9.4 million to pay for an expansion to 120 total students – 60 first-year and 60 second-year – while the Senate plan includes just $2.5 million plus a requirement that WSU provide the same support to the operation that it did when the two universities operated the program as partners.
The universities parted ways last year over disagreements about WSU’s desire to establish its own medical school. Floyd said WSU remains willing to continue working with the University of Washington on the shared program, which has been offered in WSU facilities on the Spokane campus, but won’t abandon its push for the new medical school.
The actual allocations will be part of an overall state spending plan that the Legislature is trying to hammer out in a special session.
Floyd described WSU’s commitment to Spokane as “unwavering” and noted that it already has moved its pharmacy, nursing and other health science programs to the new downtown campus. It’s also building a $16 million medical clinic where students and resident physicians will train and treat patients under supervision.
“Medical education is alive and well in Spokane,” he said.
Both universities acknowledge Washington needs to train more doctors to alleviate shortages, particularly in rural communities.
The University of Washington accepts 120 new in-state medical students per year and another 120 from four other states: Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. It sends 40 first-year students to Spokane and has nine second-year students here.
WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown said Washington is training fewer doctors per capita than any other state and noted that more than 200 in-state students who apply to the University of Washington every year are turned away but accepted by out-of-state medical schools.