Spokane Journal of Business

Gonzaga set to host influx of UW medical students

Schoenberg Center gets upgrades as preparation

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-—Treva Lind
John Sklut, chief of staff to the president at Gonzaga University, stands outside of the Schoenberg Center, where some University of Washington medical students will start taking classes this fall.

Crews are updating Gonzaga University’s Schoenberg Center to host 100 medical students starting studies Aug. 22, and that attendance includes the largest first-year class in Spokane undergoing University of Washington School of Medicine training.

August also will mark the first time UW medical students have taken courses on Gonzaga’s campus, under a new joint agreement between the universities announced in February. For the 2016-17 academic year, the partnership will support 60 first-year medical students, up from 40 in the previous year, after an infusion of new state Legislative funding in 2015. 

Additionally, 40 second-year medical students will be doing coursework at Schoenberg Center.

“We have been working diligently to make sure we could get the students started this fall,” says Suzanne Allen, vice dean for academic, rural, and regional affairs for the UW School of Medicine. She’s worked on preparations for the UW-GU regional health partnership agreement with John Sklut, Gonzaga’s chief of staff to the president.

“This is actually a great partnership serving Spokane and Eastern Washington to help meet the physician workforce needs,” Allen says. “The Schoenberg Center is the facility that’s been identified to house the University of Washington School of Medicine students, and there are certain renovations in the building soon to be complete to make it functional.”

For decades, UW taught medical students in Eastern Washington with Washington State University as its partner in a community-based, five-state medical education program called WWAMI, which is an acronym for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. UW ended its relationship with WSU, however, after the Pullman-based university committed to opening its own medical school in Spokane.

Earlier this year, UW and GU forged a partnership to include use of a facility on the Jesuit school’s campus. While a majority of classes will be at Gonzaga, UW medical students will continue for now to use an anatomy lab on the Riverpoint Campus, Allen says.

“Our students will access the anatomy lab on the Riverpoint Campus, about a seven-minute walk from the Schoenberg Center,” she says. “One of the goals is to have an anatomy lab on the Gonzaga campus.”

Partnership leaders expect that a different facility with an anatomy lab will be needed in the future at Gonzaga, she adds, especially with the joint agreement’s goal to expand medical education and Spokane-based research. 

“At some point in time, we’ll need a larger facility, as well as having an anatomy lab,” Allen says. “Schoenberg is a great place for us right now, but we know as we want to grow our class, Schoenberg gets a bit small. It’s more convenient if we have an anatomy lab, along with the potential to expand research with Gonzaga. That’s why we’re talking about another facility beyond the Schoenberg Center.”

For now, however, GU crews are finishing about $200,000 in Schoenberg improvements on the southwest portion of campus, to be followed by technology updates, Sklut says. Work has included expanding a main lecture room so it’s large enough to hold 60 students. 

On June 27, more than 20 UW School of Medicine faculty members were expected to start moving into the 26,600-square-foot facility, Sklut adds. 

Schoenberg originally was built as the Museum of Native American Art & Culture and more recently held international student programs, which moved to the new Hemmingson Center, Sklut says. Allen adds that about six or seven GU faculty also will help teach the medical students at Schoenberg this year.

“We’re excited to have Gonzaga faculty joining us,” she says. 

Allen says Dr. William Sayres, a Spokane-based Group Health Cooperative family physician, has played a key role since January, when he was named assistant dean at UW School of Medicine, in Spokane. In the role, he has led efforts applying UW’s new medical school classroom curriculum for first- and second-year students at Gonzaga and coordinated with faculty in UW School of Medicine for Spokane-based instruction.

In 2013, Sayres was recruited to develop and teach UW second-year medical curriculum in Spokane, the first time its second-year students were educated outside of Seattle. He’s now meeting on almost a weekly basis with Patricia O’Connell Killen, Gonzaga academic vice president, to iron out needs for faculty and students on Gonzaga’s campus, Allen says.

The medical students advance to third- and fourth-year clinical training in physicians’ practices across the five-state region. However, as efforts continue to expand medical training in Eastern Washington, UW expects that higher numbers of students will stay in Spokane, Allen says. 

“We anticipate we’ll have a significant amount of the students in Spokane remain to do their clinical training,” she says, adding that more students describe wanting to remain in Eastern Washington for such reasons as being from the area or the lower cost of living here.

To support the medical students, Gonzaga leaders also have worked to ensure they have access to campus services such as its library, fitness center, and health and counseling center. Being on a campus also provides opportunities for the medical students to interact with Gonzaga’s undergraduates for service-learning projects or a pre-med student group, both Sklut and Allen say.

Having university services and interactions were major considerations for why it was important for the medical students to be part of an academic community, Sklut adds.

With the joint agreement, university leaders vowed the two schools will continue, enhance, and expand medical education and research in Spokane. More than 500 faculty in 18 communities throughout Eastern Washington serve as educators and mentors for UW medical students, a February news release said.

In Spokane, about 40 primary-care physicians have volunteered to mentor medical students, according to UW, and more than 360 physicians teach clinical clerkships and electives across Eastern Washington.

UW and GU leaders in the February announcement also said the universities will embark on a collaborative, regional health initiative to develop shared facilities and high-impact, applied research. The partnership’s soon-to-be-hired executive director based at Gonzaga will work on those goals alongside other Spokane-based UW School of Medicine leaders and a future community advisory board.

Sklut adds that the new partnership director, who will be a Gonzaga employee, is expected to be in the position close to when August classes start. Applications for the position closed June 30. 

As the regional health partnership takes shape, Sklut says he believes the medical training on the Gonzaga campus will complement WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, which is on track to teach a 40-student class of first-year medical students in fall 2017.

“We believe the two programs can complement each other and contribute to the success of each other,” Sklut says, adding that the programs both will meet a “dire need” nationally and regionally to train more medical professionals and offset a U.S. shortage of physicians. 

Allen says once a director is in place, the partnership will form the community advisory board and take steps to support a growing class size in Spokane. Board members will provide advice to the regional health partnership around facility needs and expanding research collaboration. 

“Since we’ll be asking the Legislature around potentially growing the class from 60 students a year to 80 students a year, we plan to be asking for that funding in the 2017 legislative session,” Allen says. “As of right now it costs $45,000 per student per year to train them through the University of Washington School of Medicine. That’s what the state cost is, and then students pay tuition on top of that.”

Allen adds, “The advisory board potentially will be members of different Spokane-area health institutions, practitioners, and private individuals interested in finding ways to grow the health sciences infrastructure in Spokane.”

Treva Lind
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