Spokane Journal of Business

WSU medical school plans are on track, inaugural dean says

Tomkowiak starts program focused on community

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-—Mike McLean
Dr. John Tomkowiak, who has worked with community-based medical schools elsewhere, says that leading WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Dr. John Tomkowiak, Washington State University’s inaugural dean for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, is carrying on the legacy of the medical school’s namesake by implementing a few innovative ideas of his own.

Tomkowiak, whose medical background is in psychiatry, has been based full time at the WSU-Spokane campus since the beginning of this year. He comes from the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University, where he was dean of that medical school, president of the university’s health system, and vice president of its clinical affairs.

He began engineering the culture for the planned medical school here, though, soon after WSU announced his selection in September.

In a culture-building event here in December, Tomkowiak introduced three themes to be incorporated into WSU’s medical education here—leadership, personalized education, and lifetime career support.

Leadership training will be a regular part of the curriculum, he says.

“Students will have a certificate in leadership when they leave school,” he says. “Doctors are always asked to be leaders, but they don’t get training. It’s incredibly important.”

The personalized medical education initiative will enable students to customize their course schedules to accommodate their strengths and weaknesses, “so they can follow their passions and develop as physicians in the context of making sure they’re grounded in the fundamentals,” Tomkowiak says.

WSU’s College of Medicine also will provide continuing support and help in certification needs through a referral network, he says.

“We want to provide a network to last a lifetime,” Tomkowiak says. “That’s a new concept in medical education.”

He says he hadn’t met the college’s namesake, but plans to carry out Floyd’s vision for the medical school.

“I’ve learned a lot about Elson Floyd,” he says. “As we build the school, we have to honor his memory in everything we do.”

That includes Floyd’s pursuit of excellence, inclusion, and innovation at WSU, Tomkowiak says.

“He always talked about WSU as a land grant institution here for everyone in the state of Washington,” Tomkowiak says. “We want to make sure we develop a medical school with that in mind.”

He says WSU is keeping the pace and schedule that Floyd envisioned on the path to accrediting the new medical school and enrolling its charter class.

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which is an accrediting agency for medical schools in the U.S. and Canada, earlier this month granted WSU candidate status.

Tomkowiak says he expects the committee will conduct a site visit here this spring or summer.

That will set the stage for the committee to decide whether to elevate WSU to preliminary accreditation status when it meets in October, all of which is timely for WSU to meet its goal of enrolling its charter class of 40 medical students for the fall of 2017, he says.

Tomkowiak is familiar with the process of setting up a medical school. He was part of a team that established Florida State University College of Medicine, in Tallahassee, in 2000.

He also has leadership experience in four community-based medical education programs.

“The entire school is founded on community education,” Tomkowiak says of WSU’s College of Medicine. “We’re not going to own our own hospital. We’re going to have to rely on our affiliates to make sure students get clinical opportunities in rural and underserved areas, and we’re going to be looking for students from rural and underserved areas who want to be doctors.”

After WSU medical students complete their preliminary studies on the WSU-Spokane campus, students will enter more clinical training through WSU campuses here and in the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, and Everett.

At this point in the accreditation process, WSU is on a similar trajectory compared with the early accreditation stages for Florida State University, although Tomkowiak adds that WSU’s timeline might be more accelerated.

“We have a leg up because we were the site for the WWAMI program, and more resources and infrastructure are in place that most new medical schools don’t have,” he says of WSU’s status.

WWAMI, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, is a five-state University of Washington medical education program that teaches first- and second-year medical students.

UW compelled WSU to sever its ties with the WWAMI program after WSU announced its intentions to create its own medical school in mid-2014. UW now is pursuing a partnership with Gonzaga University to continue and potentially expand the WWAMI program here.

While most of Tomkowiak’s career has been based in the Midwest and East Coast, he did have some previous knowledge of WSU, having earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University, which is within sight of the WSU Spokane campus.

“I became an adjunct faculty (for Gonzaga) and have taught ever since,” he says.

Though his duties as dean of WSU’s medical school are taking all of his professional time these days, Tomkowiak hopes to keep his adjunct faculty status with Gonzaga.

“I would like to return to teaching when I get time,” he says.

Tomkowiak also was aware early on of WSU’s medical school aspirations, he says.

“It’s rare for a Tier One institution to start up a medical school,” he says.

Tomkowiak says he couldn’t resist the opportunity start a brand new medical school as its leader.

“This for me is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “My experience at Florida State as a team member is one of the best times in my career.”

Tomkowiak says he recruited a few key people to augment the founding team for the College of Medicine, including James Zimmerman, vice dean of administration, accreditation, and finance; MaryAnn Clemens, special adviser for curriculum development; and business manager Lisa Tyran.

“There was a solid team on the ground already,” he says. “I brought in expertise in how to get moving quickly.”

His wife, Sherri, who is a practicing psychiatrist, and their two school-aged children plan to move to the Spokane area after the current school year.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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