SPOKANE — Washington State University is well-positioned to develop an accredited medical school by 2017 with a relatively modest investment from the state, says a study commissioned by the university and released Thursday.
University of Washington officials said they were disappointed WSU is continuing to pursue its own medical school and urged the other university to put aside its “individual institutional ambitions” to focus on what’s best for the state.
Washington State University already has the physical capacity and experience to open a new medical school — it has a health-sciences campus in Spokane and has participated in the WWAMI medical-education program run by the University of Washington for 43 years, the WSU study noted. The program trains students to become doctors in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
The study underscored the “significant and growing statewide need” for more doctors, especially outside the Seattle region. And it found that a medical school in Spokane could double the number of in-state medical-school graduates during the next decade, with no capital expenditure.
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Consultants said it would cost $1 million to $3 million per year in state funds during the next few years to start the school. Funding needs would increase gradually, up to $47 million annually when the school reaches an enrollment of 480 students in 2024-25. Of that, $29 million annually would come from the state.
Even before WSU’s regents had finished their meeting, UW officials released the statement questioning the need for another medical school.
“We believe creating a second, $47 million medical school raises many questions and concerns about the highest and best use of limited resources,” said UW Regent Orin Smith in a prepared statement.
“Addressing our health-care disparities in Eastern Washington and growing an innovative, sustainable economy in Spokane demand that we put aside individual institutional ambitions and focus on what is best for our students, the Spokane community and the state,” he said.
The state’s two largest universities have been waging a turf war for more than a year over WSU’s aspirations for a medical school. UW officials fear another school could draw faculty, students and state funding away from the WWAMI program and say a more cost-effective way to expand medical training is to grow WWAMI.
A task force convened by UW President Michael Young, and chaired by former Gov. Dan Evans, will release a report in October on the future of WWAMI and how best to boost medical-school education.
Because WSU has been involved in the WWAMI program for years, “you are light years ahead” of other schools that try to build a medical school from scratch, said Ray Thompson of MGT of America, which conducted the study and presented its findings to WSU’s Board of Regents in Pullman Thursday. The board is expected to take action Friday.
Thompson said the school could earn preliminary accreditation in early 2016, with the initial class of 40 students beginning in fall 2017.
WSU-Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown said if WSU creates its own medical school, it would also continue to participate in WWAMI.
Material from Nicholas K. Geranios of The Associated Press and Katherine Long of The Seattle Times is included in this report.