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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

UW, Gonzaga forge a new medical education partnership

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, left, and Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh shake hands after the announcement that Gonzaga University would host UW medical students on campus, starting in the fall of 2016. The announcement was Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, at Gonzaga University. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The University of Washington’s medical school program in Spokane will survive the establishment of a second medical school in the city.

UW and Gonzaga University leaders signed a four-year deal Wednesday for Gonzaga to host UW medical students, allowing UW to vacate most of the space it uses on the Washington State University Spokane campus.

The new agreement replaces the medical partnership UW ended with WSU last year after four decades.

Gonzaga will host 60 first-year and 40 second-year medical school students from the UW School of Medicine this fall, administrators from the two schools announced Wednesday at a ceremony at Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center. UW officials said they plan to lobby the state Legislature next year to expand the first-year class to 80 students.

“Here we are to announce that we’re bringing together two world-class universities with a real common value and shared mission to serve the public good,” said University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, who barely made the announcement because her flight was two hours late.

Presidents from Gonzaga and UW stressed the economic benefit they say will result from the expected growth of UW’s program as well as the importance of the program in addressing a shortage of physicians.

The announcement that ended in the signing of the deal only hinted at what led UW to look for a new partner.

UW’s negotiations with the private Jesuit university were triggered by the breakup of the long partnership between UW and WSU, driven by WSU administrators’ desire to create a new medical school on the WSU Spokane campus.

Gonzaga and UW began talking in December 2014 after UW officials pitched the idea to Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh.

Gonzaga is the first private university to join with UW’s medical school, which hosts medical students in their first 18 months of school at campuses in Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho as well as in Seattle and Spokane. Students in the final 2 1/2 years of school complete rotations in a variety of locations, including Seattle.

McCulloh said the University of Washington will reimburse Gonzaga for its expenses that are estimated to be $1.5 million annually.

“The university will not receive funds directly from the state or from the Legislature to cover its costs,” McCulloh said. “It will do so through the University of Washington.”

Cauce has said UW students studying at Gonzaga will get the same education as they would at a secular university. At a news conference after the announcement, she said that since students don’t perform procedures in their first 18 months of medical school – when they will be based at the Jesuit institution – they will not be deprived of learning about reproductive procedures contrary to Catholic teachings.

“It’s important for students at any medical school to be able to meet the needs of people with a broad range of beliefs and a broad range of cultures and that’s something that we absolutely teach our students at the very beginning,” she said.

Spokane Mayor David Condon said at the announcement Wednesday that the partnership between UW and Gonzaga brings together “two reputations that are second to none.”

UW School of Medicine is one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation.

WSU, meanwhile, was successful in lobbying the Legislature to fund the early steps in its quest for accreditation of a new medical school. The university recently announced that the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is on track for accreditation with 60 students possibly arriving in fall 2017.

During WSU’s drive for a medical school, officials debated the need for two medical schools in Spokane. UW President Cauce said keeping the UW program in Spokane required finding a partner.

“We have been here for 40 years,” Cauce said. “We’re committed to being here. We’re committed to expanding, and it’s up to you to decide how many medical schools we have here.”

McCulloh noted the UW program includes 18 months in Spokane, while WSU’s program will be fully based in Spokane. He also said there will be other differences that will make each program unique.

“It is not the case that at this point in time we’re contemplating building a full four-year medical school out of this partnership in Spokane,” McCulloh said. “I actually see them as quite complementary.”

WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown said UW has not given formal notice that it will vacate the WSU campus, but that McCulloh informed her of the finalization of the partnership last week.

“Time will tell how this partnership will develop and what it brings to the region,” Brown said. “WSU has always been clear that our aspirations with respect to our medical school are not contrary to the University of Washington.”

WSU officials have insisted they were open to maintaining a UW medical school partnership, even if it formed a separate medical school.

Brown said Gonzaga’s decision to partner with UW should not hurt WSU’s relationship with Gonzaga. She said WSU’s medical school dean is meeting with Gonzaga officials to find ways Gonzaga may contribute to WSU’s program.

The UW program will take over the Schoenberg Center, which includes classroom and faculty offices. McCulloh said faculty who currently use the space already had requested to move.

For at least the first year of the new partnership, however, students will continue using WSU Spokane’s anatomy lab, where students work with cadavers. But the agreement says Gonzaga and UW may explore building a new anatomy lab.

Cauce said the prospect of a partnership with Gonzaga has invigorated the Spokane program. As its future became uncertain, the number of UW students who listed Spokane as their first choice to spend their first two years fell below 10, Cauce said. Next year, however, at least 47 of the 60 incoming students picked Spokane as their first choice.

“The University of Washington really is the university for all of Washington,” Cauce said. “I know at times that’s been questioned. It should not be. There is no question about it.”