It is critically important we increase health care providers in Washington state. Rural communities are facing a concerning health care provider shortage, increasing the difficulty for people to access affordable, quality health care close to home, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new urgency to this need for more doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and other health care providers.
One meaningful and emerging solution helping to meet the need for more exceptional health care providers is the impactful and transformational partnership between the University of Washington School of Medicine and Gonzaga University. Five years ago, UW and GU formed a partnership to advance health care in our region through robust, cost-effective medical education. Since then, this highly successful partnership has gained a great deal of momentum as it provides a foundation for innovative medical and health education and research for our region.
The energy of the Health Partnership can be seen on Spokane Falls Boulevard, where the UW and GU are collaborating with McKinstry’s Emerald Initiative to build a new four-story center for medical and health education – a hub for learning, innovation, and ground-breaking research. It’s exciting to consider that 120 first- and second-year medical students and 210 students in Gonzaga’s Department of Human of Physiology will begin classes in the new building in summer 2022.
In addition to high-tech classrooms, this space will include a state-of-the-art anatomy lab and still leave room to grow. The fourth floor was intentionally conceived as an opportunity to expand on the centralized, shared resource for emerging research activity.
The new building is the anchor for a health peninsula that includes the historic SIERR Building, which will become the home base for 60 Medex Northwest physician assistant students. The team of private industry partners, which includes McKinstry’s Emerald Initiative and Bouten Construction Co., has contributed greatly to creating a vision for this modern and sustainable hub that will enhance Spokane’s University District. The collaborative work of the health science students and professionals, both private and public, within the Health Peninsula and the broader University District will help drive innovation in both rural health and health equity.
As a local business owner and professor, I also understand the downstream economic impact of the Health Partnership. A 2018 Economic Impact Study from the American Medical Association shows that the average economic total generated by each physician in our state is $2.2 million, and the direct economic activity generated by physicians in Washington is $18.8 billion. As we educate more physicians to practice locally, our economy improves on a trajectory once only dreamed about.
Consider the impacts created by the $60 million facility through construction jobs and taxes. When you add the impacts of students and faculty living in our community, the ripple effect also is considerable.
Spokane is transforming and becoming what we dreamed about five years ago when the Health Partnership was formed. Higher education and a strong health care system are among many factors driving our economy to new heights. The medical schools are an important part of that success and will help ensure that the rural areas of our state have adequate health care providers and care to meet whatever health emergencies come to pass in the years ahead.
Kevin Parker is a Spokane small business owner and visiting professor at the Whitworth University School of Business. He serves on the Community Advisory Board for UW-GU Health Partnership.
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