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Ana Mari Cauce and Thayne McCulloh: Vision to expand medical education advances in Spokane, with new building underway

By Ana Mari Cauce and Thayne McCulloh

By Ana Mari Cauce and Thayne McCulloh

Vision to expand medical education advances with new building underway

By Ana Mari Cauce and Thayne McCulloh

COVID-19 cases are soaring in Washington and nationwide. Coupled with a shortage of health care providers in rural communities, the pandemic is threatening to overwhelm an already stressed health care system. Even as vaccines become more available over these next months, following public health guidance remains critical to ending this crisis: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance. This is vital not only to protecting yourself and your loved ones, but also to our health care professionals who not only treat patients suffering from the coronavirus but other life-threatening illnesses and conditions as well.

As you are likely aware, the current strain on rural health care is exacerbated by a long-term shortage of providers for these areas. Across Eastern Washington, there has never been a greater need for more doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other health care professionals to provide care to these communities. Against this sobering truth, the recent groundbreaking for a new hub for medical and health education for the University of Washington – Gonzaga University Health Partnership takes on new significance.

Nearly five years ago, the UW and Gonzaga formalized a partnership to advance healthy, vibrant communities in eastern Washington through medical and related health sciences education. Our partnership leverages the UW School of Medicine’s 50-year presence in Eastern Washington and Gonzaga’s top-ranked undergraduate and graduate teaching faculty in biology, chemistry, physics, human physiology, nursing and mathematics. Together, we are committed to educating the region’s next generation of health care professionals, graduating more students who will serve patients in our communities.

Like the Health Partnership itself, the new building goes beyond interdisciplinary health sciences education Located next to McKinstry’s historic Spokane Inland Empire Railroad (SIERR) facility, the two buildings combined will create a 145,000 square-foot hub for health sciences education, research and innovation. The new facility will become home to the UW School of Medicine in Spokane and Gonzaga’s Department of Human Physiology.

The SIERR will provide additional classroom space to students and become the base for UW’s MEDEX Northwest physician assistant program. These facilities will attract public and private-sector medical and health scientists, creating an ecosystem to advance health-related research and develop solutions to allow more people to access affordable, high quality care.

This significant milestone in our partnership is driven by collaboration and a vision for spurring economic growth by leveraging strengths between public and private sectors. Developed in partnership with McKinstry and McKinstry’s Emerald Initiative, the center will open in 2022 as a place where students and entrepreneurs learn and work together. For the first time, 120 UW medical students and more than 500 Gonzaga undergraduate students will share the same space, bringing new energy and sparking collaborations that lead to better health for Eastern Washington residents.

Our Health Partnership has reached this milestone thanks to the hard work and backing of countless business and community leaders, local elected officials and state legislators, stellar educators, clinical partners and health care providers who recognized the public benefit of investing in health care research and education in Eastern Washington.

Our public-private partnership allows us to build an advanced, innovative, student-centered facility without relying on state capital funding; however, we do ask the state to build on this strong foundation by providing operating support for the many students who will pass through the halls of our building on their way to lifelong service.

With continued community and legislative support, we will produce more graduates with the skills necessary to help our region thrive. Together, we can improve health and well-being for everyone, every day, making us better-equipped to confront the public-health challenges of tomorrow.

Ana Mari Cauce is president of the University of Washington; Thayne McCulloh is president of Gonzaga University. Their universities formed a Health Partnership in 2016 to expand and enhance medical education throughout Eastern Washington.

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