It’s time to let WSU establish a new medical school in Spokane.
AS a practicing physician and part of the management team at a large health-care organization in Seattle, I’m constantly reminded of the many benefits that our region enjoys by having such a robust and forward-looking health-care infrastructure.
From Medic One to the development of new, cutting-edge drug therapies and medical devices, and pushing the envelope on delivering the best health outcomes for the lowest cost, we are innovators. All of this contributes to better care for patients.
But when it comes to one aspect of our medical infrastructure, namely that we have only one public medical school, our state lags in performance. This isn’t just an inconvenience for qualified students who must leave our state to pursue their medical educations elsewhere, it’s a problem that affects the quality of life, economy and health of everyone who calls our great state home.
While we enjoy a high density of doctors in Seattle, not far outside the city limits the situation is much different. Travel to one of our state’s rural communities and the physician shortage is acute. Physician retirement, population growth and increased access to health care for previously uninsured people are making this problem worse.
There are currently two proposals on the table to grow medical education in our state. One would expand the University of Washington’s existing program. The other would establish a new medical school on Washington State University’s Spokane campus.
These are the questions our state legislators are grappling with today, and I applaud them for their thoughtfulness. Disappointingly, however, some are characterizing this as an either-or decision. The truth is that we need both programs. Any solution that does not include establishing a new medical school will fail to meet the test of the challenges our state confronts.
The University of Washington School of Medicine is an outstanding medical school, and I am a proud graduate of that program. But in a state of more than 7 million people, UW admits only 120 students from Washington each year. This is the lowest per capita number of medical-school seats for any state with a medical school. Each year, more than 200 highly qualified Washington students get accepted to medical schools out of state, and many never return. These students deserve greater choice, and the best long-term option is to create a second medical school.
Even if we increase the number of students taught by the UW — as it is proposing — our state will continue to fall behind in meeting the needs of our underserved communities.
Because of the investments that have already been made by WSU in faculty and facilities, the cost of establishing a new medical school is much lower than it would be if we were starting from scratch. And the university’s proposed approach to medical education is a community-based model that would further keep costs low by utilizing existing clinical infrastructure across the state.
It is also a model that has proved effective where it has been deployed elsewhere across the country in addressing the challenges we confront here in Washington. In short, WSU has designed a program that would help address today’s urgent needs while developing an enduring program that would build upon and complement our state’s existing medical infrastructure.
Part of my job as a doctor is to constantly improve — to look for new and better ways to get patients the care they need. Science and technology is constantly changing, and these changes support progress that improves and saves lives. We in the medical community must adapt to incorporate new ideas and practices into the care we provide in order to achieve the results our patients deserve.
Today, in the face of overwhelming data and experience, it is clear that we need to grow access to medical education. And to do that properly, we need a new medical school. Waiting would impose costs, and it would become increasingly difficult to recover from them.
I hope that our state policymakers have the wisdom to seize this moment to build on our state’s great medical tradition and provide more opportunity for a healthier, more prosperous state by authorizing a new medical school at WSU.