The state’s top two universities have different ideas about how to train more doctors, but both agree: Washington State University can establish and operate a new medical school if it’s not at the expense of the existing University of Washington program.
Washington faces a dire shortage of primary care providers, particularly in underserved rural communities on the eastern side of the state. The state’s only medical school struggles to train enough doctors with only enough funding to admit 140 students to study within the state each year.
Both universities have different proposals to improve healthcare access. WSU wants funding to hire staff and secure accreditation for a new school while UW wants to expand an existing program to accommodate more students. Spokane lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow both.
The University of Washington has since 1917 had exclusive rights to operate a medical school in the state. Now, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner and Rep. Marcus Riccelli have introduced joint bills to remove the restriction and allow WSU to create its own program on the other side of the mountains. The bill also removes UW’s sole rights to medicine, forestry products and logging engineering majors.
UW doesn’t mind giving up its exclusive rights, but worries about the financial impact for its existing program, spokesperson Genesee Adkins said. WSU last year announced it was withdrawing from WWAMI, a doctor training program operated in partnership with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. WWAMI trains doctors for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. It’s an acronym for the first letter of each state.
In 2013, WSU accepted nearly $6 million in state money to help support existing students at the Spokane branch of the WWAMI program. Now, WSU plans to reallocate the funding to pay for its own program.
Adkins says UW does not want the money reallocated. “Do not explore this one concept at the expense of another,” she told the House Higher Education committee on Tuesday.
UW wants $8 million to expand the WWAMI program in order accommodate 80 students in Spokane per year by 2017. “The need for expansion of medical professions is absolutely clear and we recognize that need,” University of Washington President Michael K. Young told lawmakers on Thursday. “Our program is scalable.”
Washington State President Elson S. Floyd says the two programs don’t have to be mutually-exclusive. “We are not duplicating what already exists,” Floyd said. “The teaching model at the University of Washington can continue. It is our hope and desire that it would be augmented.”
WSU wants $2.5 million to launch a community-based medical school, using partnerships with medical facilities instead of building its own research hospital. Michigan State and Florida State universities – as well as UW – use similar models.
The university hopes to welcome its first class of 40 students by 2017 and grow to accommodate 120 by 2021.
House Bill 1559, which only removes the restriction and doesn’t provide funding for either program, has more than 60 bipartisan sponsors signed on. The bill needs only a simple majority to pass the chamber of 98 lawmakers. Senate Bill 5487 is a companion.