SPOKANE — Washington State University’s board of regents on Friday unanimously approved the administration’s controversial effort to start a new medical school in Spokane, citing the “dire need” for more doctors in the state.
“The easy path for us to take would be to support the status quo,” Regent Scott Carson said. “The data tells us there’s a need, and we should move forward to fill that need.”
WSU’s plan is opposed by the University of Washington, which operates the state’s only publicly funded medical school.
While approving WSU President Elson Floyd’s pursuit of the independent medical school, the regents said the university should continue its partnership with the University of Washington’s WWAMI program, which trains doctors for the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
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“There is no question that the excellence of the University of Washington program is a real blessing to the state,” Regent Laura Jennings said. “We need both WWAMI and a new medical school to meet the needs.”
The board’s approval came a day after a consulting firm said WSU is “well-positioned” to start a medical school. The consultant’s report found that Washington suffers from a shortage of doctors, especially outside the Seattle metropolitan area, and that shortage is likely to grow.
Nearly half of the state’s physicians are in King County, the study said, greatly exceeding its 29 percent share of the state’s population. Of Washington’s 39 counties, 18 have 10 or fewer physicians per 10,000 people. King County, in contrast, has more than four times as many.
State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said he will push for a second medical school in the Legislature.
“The ability of the state to have another accredited medical program for only an initial investment of $2.5 million gives the Legislature something to strongly consider,” Baumgartner said.
“I intend to find a model where University of Washington and Washington State University do it together,” he said. “I will not allow this to become the Apple Cup of medical schools.”
The feasibility study released Thursday found WSU already has significant assets and long experience training medical students because of its health-sciences campus in Spokane and its participation in the WWAMI program. A medical school in Spokane could double the number of in-state students graduating from medical schools during the next decade, with no capital expenditure, the study by MGT of America found.
Preliminary accreditation could be earned in early 2016, according to the study, with the initial class beginning in fall 2017.
The study estimated that it would cost $1 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.
Tuition would be $98,000 a year, including a $60,000-per-student annual subsidy from the state, the study said.
UW Regent Orin Smith expressed disappointment Thursday that Washington State continues to pursue a separate 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,” Smith said.
UW offers 120 medical-school slots each year to in-state students. But other states with populations the size of Washington’s typically offer more than 400 slots in medical schools per year, the study found.
Washington also has a privately funded osteopathic school, Pacific Northwest University, in Yakima, which admits 135 to 145 students per year.