The University of Washington and Gonzaga University will begin training medical-school students together in Spokane beginning this fall.

Share story

The University of Washington announced Wednesday that it has a new partner in the five-state medical education partnership known as WWAMI.

Gonzaga University will replace Washington State University — the UW’s original Eastern Washington partner — and help train WWAMI medical students on the Jesuit school’s Spokane campus. (WWAMI stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho — the five states in the partnership.)

The partnership will start this fall, when 60 first-year medical-school students begin their training in Spokane, joined by another 40 who are already studying there. They will be taught jointly by UW and Gonzaga faculty, and Gonzaga will be reimbursed by the UW for about $1.5 million annually.

WWAMI is considered an efficient, cost-effective model because five relatively small Western states share in the cost of educating students through the UW School of Medicine, rather than building their own separate medical schools.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Gonzaga and the UW have been talking about a Spokane partnership since last year, when Washington State announced plans to start its own medical school in Spokane.

The two state universities publicly sparred over the plans, and eventually the UW-WSU partnership disintegrated after WSU won legislative support for its own, stand-alone school.

But UW officials said they remained committed to teaching medicine on the east side of the state and began working on a partnership with Gonzaga. It will be the first public-private partnership for the UW’s medical-school program.

UW President Ana Mari Cauce flew to Spokane on Wednesday to sign what she called a historic agreement, and one that affirms the university’s commitment to Eastern Washington, which faces a looming shortage of doctors as baby-boom-era physicians start to retire. She said there’s a hope that medical students who start their training in Spokane will decide to stay and practice medicine there.

The 60 incoming first-year students all put down Spokane as their first choice, and 24 percent are from Eastern Washington, UW officials said. The majority said they are interested in going into primary care.

Spokane community leaders have said they believe that medical education and related research have the potential to create an annual economic impact of $1.7 billion for the region.

Students in the partnership will spend 18 months studying in Spokane, as part of a new medical-school curriculum the UW introduced this academic year. Under that curriculum, students begin working in medical clinics with patients almost immediately.

During the last 2½ years of their four-year medical-school education, students will work in clinics and hospitals exclusively. The UW-Gonzaga students won’t be bound to stay in Spokane; they’ll be able to do their clinical rotations throughout the five-state region.

Because Gonzaga is a religious institution, medical training has the potential to clash with teachings of the Catholic church, including the church’s opposition to abortion. However, Cauce said abortion procedures are not taught during the first 18 months of a medical education.

Rather, students will learn how to care for women who miscarry, which is part of the curriculum in the first 18 months, said Suzanne Allen, vice dean for academic, rural and regional affairs for the UW School of Medicine.

The UW-Gonzaga students will use the anatomy lab on WSU’s Riverpointe campus, but at some point, the agreement may require new facilities on the Gonzaga campus, said Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh. The two campuses are within walking distance of each other, separated by the Spokane River.

Meanwhile, WSU expects to open its new medical school in fall 2017.

McCulloh said the WSU program and the UW-Gonzaga program will be complementary. “We’re not contemplating building a full, four-year medical school out of this campus in Spokane,” he said.

The partnership agreement is for an initial period of four years. Under the terms of the agreement, the UW will reimburse Gonzaga for direct expenses related to the program, including faculty salaries, academic support, library use and counseling. Medical school education for in-state students is subsidized by the state.

As part of the agreement, the UW says it will conduct health-related research, encourage entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary health sciences teaching in Spokane.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.