Washington’s two major universities are once again asking lawmakers for more money for medical education, but the fighting over who is best equipped to teach doctors seems to be a thing of the past.
Washington’s two research universities are once again asking lawmakers for extra money for both of their medical-school programs in Spokane.
But the frosty relationship between the University of Washington and Washington State University over medical-school funding seems to be a thing of the past.
“Finally, we see this as behind us,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz, speaking during a joint interview on the Seattle Channel show Civic Cocktail on Wednesday with UW President Ana Mari Cauce.
Two years ago, the two schools fought publicly over which one was more qualified and capable of quickly expanding doctor training in the state. WSU proposed — and ultimately won — the right to open its own medical school on its Spokane campus.
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That school — the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine — is on track to admit its first group of students this fall. It’s reviewing 340 applications for 60 slots for its program.
The UW, which had partnered with WSU to teach medical students in Spokane, went its own way last year, starting a partnership with Spokane’s private Gonzaga University to host its medical-school program. (The UW’s cooperative, five-state medical education program is known as WWAMI — an acronym formed by the names of the five states that participate: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.)
Schulz was not WSU president during the medical-school fight; he joined WSU in June 2016. Cauce became president of the UW in the fall of 2015, after the debate was largely over.
“I hate to say it, but I actually like this guy,” Cauce joked about Schulz on Wednesday, noting that the two became presidents of their respective universities “at similar times, and most of the issues we’re dealing with are incredibly similar.”
Cauce said all of the state’s four-year public universities and two-year colleges are approaching Olympia this year with “a common agenda,” in hopes of accomplishing more.
“The truth is, a stronger WSU makes the UW stronger, and a strong UW makes a stronger WSU,” she said. “This state has plenty of room for two top universities.”
In the Legislature this year, WSU is requesting $10.8 million to fund 60 first-year and 60 second-year medical school students over the biennium.
The WSU school received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in October. It is named after the university’s late president, Elson Floyd, who died in 2015.
Meanwhile, the UW — which is teaching 60 first-year and 40 second-year medical students at Gonzaga this academic year — is hoping to add 20 additional students, eventually bringing the total to 80 first-year and 80 second-year students. It’s requesting $9.2 million in state funding.
For now, there’s enough physical space in Spokane for both programs to continue to share an anatomy lab that’s located on the WSU campus, which is located directly across the Spokane River from Gonzaga. The rest of the UW’s classes are taught at Gonzaga’s Schoenberg Center building.
But if the UW gets the OK to increase the size of its program, it will require a new building, said Suzanne Allen, vice dean for academic, rural and regional affairs for the UW School of Medicine.
The lab, where first-year students take anatomy lessons using cadavers in the ground-floor lab on the Riverpointe campus, will be used by medical students from both programs for the next three years, while the WSU ramps up the size of its classes.
The plan is for Gonzaga to raise private funding for a building on its campus, for both anatomy and other classes. The building would be leased to the UW. It’s likely to take three or four years to raise the money and construct the building, Allen said.
In 2015, when WSU and UW were battling over funding, it became clear that one of the bottlenecks was a lack of residency positions — the finishing years for medical-school graduates that allow them to work with patients and complete their educations.
The Legislature that year put $16 million toward increasing family residency slots, said Ian Goodhew, director of government relations for UW Medicine.
Residencies are funded by federal dollars, but the state money helped make sure there were enough faculty for the programs to be fully accredited, Allen said. As well, it allowed residents to do rotations in clinics; federal dollars only pay for residency rotations that are done in hospitals.