The Journal’s View: WSU medical school kickoff is cause for celebration
The Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine will welcome its charter class of students tomorrow, Aug. 18, with a white coat ceremony to signify their entry into the medical profession.
The event will focus on new beginnings for future physicians, but it also marks the triumphant end of a years-long effort to bring a dedicated, four-year medical school to Spokane. While tomorrow all eyes will be on the future, as they should be, now is a good time to reflect on the hard work by a number of businesspeople, politicians, and civic leaders that made the medical school a reality.
Conversations started well over a decade ago about development of a medical school here. The University of Washington has had the only public medical school in a five-state region—Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Some first- and second-year students have received training in Spokane since the early 1970s, but visionaries believed the community would benefit from a dedicated medical school of its own.
While it would be a fool’s errand to try to name everybody who was involved in those initial efforts, retired Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley deserves mention for keeping the conversation alive in those early days. Hadley was among the first to see the potential of such a school and remained a catalytic force as the medical school became a distinct possibility, then a reality.
Later, he and Umpqua Bank executive Marty Dickinson led a group called Leaders for a WSU Medical School that was intended to serve as a community voice on the need to educate more physicians in the Spokane area. That group played a role in getting a law passed amending a 98-year-old statute that gave the University of Washington exclusive rights to provide medical education in the state, thereby clearing the way for the WSU school.
The school’s namesake, late WSU President Floyd, obviously deserves credit for his big role in developing the medical school. Working with then-state legislator—and later WSU Spokane Chancellor—Lisa Brown, Floyd initiated a study that laid the groundwork for the need and potential financial impact of a second medical school in the state. The duo worked together to secure funding for buildings for WSU’s pharmacy school and its nursing program as steps in creating a health-education campus in Spokane.
Now, the first class of 60 medical students will start classes at the new medical school. According to WSU, all of those students either are from or have direct ties to Washington state. Whether they will remain in state and help to stem the shortage of primary-care providers in Eastern Washington remains to be seen, but their in-state roots bode well for the local health care system.
Between the new medical school and the beefed-up physician training partnership between UW and Gonzaga University, the Spokane area stands to have a solid pipeline in place for producing new doctors. That bodes well for the Spokane business community as a whole.