Guest Commentary: State should fund WSU’s medical school growth plan
~March 14th, 2019
Four years ago, Washington State University made a promise to the state: Let us open a medical school, and we’ll educate doctors to help address a critical shortage of health care providers in Washington.
WSU Health Sciences is fulfilling that promise. The WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine has enrolled two classes of students who have come from all corners of the state. Next year, that first entering class will fan out to community-based clinical training in hospitals and clinics across Washington.
With the College of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences also based in Spokane, WSU Health Sciences has become an economic engine for the region.
Now, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is asking state legislators to fund the costs of educating and training 20 more doctors, starting in August. Currently, the college accepts 60 students each fall. WSU’s plan was always to start small and scale up to 80 students in each class—a planned growth strategy that will be familiar to any prudent businessperson—and a plan made known to legislators years ago.
The Washington Legislature should support that, because the state simply needs more doctors. Our physician workforce is aging, as is the population in general—the median age of Washington’s doctors is 50. Most of the counties in the state are considered medically underserved for primary care, but even in urban areas, the neediest patients struggle to access health care.
WSU’s approach to addressing the problem is to enroll Washington students whose life experiences, personal backgrounds, or other intangibles might make them inclined to serve those communities and populations. In the first two classes, students have come from 59 communities in 20 counties around the state. The WSU medical school is educating doctors from Washington, for Washington.
It took a partnership between WSU and the Spokane community to make the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine a reality. Now, Spokane has a community-based medical school to complement its robust health care infrastructure, which includes a wide range of health sciences education programs, the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, Providence and MultiCare hospitals and clinics, and Eastern State Hospital. These are remarkable assets.
And just as early supporters of WSU Health Sciences predicted, health care is becoming an even more important part of our region’s economy. The Journal reported that Spokane-area employers are expected to add 5,000 jobs this year, and “much of the job growth is expected to occur in the health care sector.”
That doesn’t include the millions of dollars in research WSU’s colleges of medicine, pharmacy, and nursing bring in each year, and the economic activity generated by its more than 1,600 students and 940 faculty and staff based in Spokane.
It took foresight, hard work, and dedication by many people to execute the plan to stand-up this medical school; now we need to keep that momentum going and complete the original implementation plan. The state should provide the incremental funding to deliver on late WSU President Elson Floyd’s original plan and vision for this much needed community-based medical school in Spokane.
Tom Johnson is the chairman of
Greater Spokane Inc.’s Board of Trustees.
He retired as president and CEO of Spokane Teachers Credit Union in 2017.