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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

U-District building a healthy future

The Riverpoint campus rings a green space along Spokane Falls Boulevard.  The growth of the campus, and the entire University District, has brought new life to the east end of downtown. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Riverpoint campus rings a green space along Spokane Falls Boulevard. The growth of the campus, and the entire University District, has brought new life to the east end of downtown. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The excitement at the University District in downtown Spokane is palpable.

The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine has won preliminary accreditation, and the campus will soon feature a landmark pedestrian and bicycle bridge that will connect to a redeveloping East Sprague Avenue.

Nearby, Gonzaga University has formed a partnership with the University of Washington medical school that will bring more students into the region. The preliminary accreditation of the WSU medical school means it can begin recruiting students, with the first class to arrive in 2017. WSU campuses in Vancouver, Tri-Cities and Everett will also offer medical education.

In addition, a health teaching clinic opened in August, giving the campus space for its medical residency program. It will provide care for more than 35,000 people annually, most of them low-income.

Three years ago, the idea of a new medical school seemed a bridge too far.

The editorial board has vivid recollections of then-WSU President Elson Floyd as an agitated but determined leader. This was especially true in the spring of 2013, when it was announced that fewer second-year students than expected were to be enrolled at the Spokane campus under the WWAMI program. He blamed the University of Washington, which runs the medical school partnership that includes Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“We want UW as a partner with us, but if they won’t, this is important enough to us that we’re going to have to plow our own way,” he said at the time.

Then-UW President Michael Young replied: “Good luck. That’s a multimillion-dollar task.” He added: “I’d be surprised if Washington wanted to use its resources that way.”

Since then, the state Legislature and the governor have committed to a new medical school and the overall expansion of physician training. Both universities have new presidents who want to calm the waters. UW’s new partner is Gonzaga University, whose president, Thayne McCulloh, offered his congratulations to the campus across the Spokane River.

“This is a wonderful step toward continued growth of health science education and related research for the Inland Northwest, and a significant milestone for Spokane.”

The UW-Gonzaga students continue to use the anatomy lab on the WSU-Spokane campus. Soon, the two medical schools combined could have as many 120 students. The WSU colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy and Medicine have nearly 1,500 students, with 87 percent of them being in-state students.

The new medical school also wants to target in-state students, as part of its community-based model. The hope is that graduates will remain in the state to help alleviate physician shortages in underserved areas of the state. As part of its strategic plan, WSU-Spokane hopes to draw big research dollars, with the hope that local businesses will spin off and boost the economy.

Many community and political leaders deserve credit for pulling together to complete the vision of the new medical school’s namesake.

Dr. Elson S. Floyd would be proud.

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