Spokane Journal of Business

Journal’s view: Medical education growth gives cause for celebration


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The UW-GU Health Partnership will open formally its new building early next month. As the $60 million facility comes online, Washington State University is starting an extensive renovation of the Phase One classroom building to house its Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. This juncture is a good time to recognize—and celebrate—the growth of health sciences education in Spokane’s University District.

Thanks in large part to decades-long economic development efforts, Spokane has become a hub for medical education that benefits the entire region—and an instrumental part of the pipeline to fill the well-documented worker shortages in the health care industry.

In the UW-GU partnership, 120 first- and second-year future physicians are trained annually in Spokane, up from 80 prior to 2016, making it a pivotal part of the multistate WWAMI medical school program.

Including UW’s RIDE dental program, MEDEX Northwest physician assistant training program, and others, more than 500 future health care providers are to be trained in the new building, located at the southwest corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Hamilton Street, each academic year.

In addition, more than 600 clinical partners in Spokane and elsewhere in Eastern Washington conduct clinical training for third- and fourth-year medical students, providing them with real-world opportunities with the hopes that many of them will choose to stay and practice in the Inland Northwest.

According to UW medical school communications director Kim Blakely, research and innovation are within the mission of the UW-GU health partnership, which formed in 2016, and will be addressed in the future. This would be a welcome development, as the UW School of Medicine ranked second among all U.S. medical schools with $996 million in federal grants in 2020, according to Blakely. It would be good to see a portion of that work—and those dollars—finding its way to the eastern side of the state.

The young WSU medical school and health sciences campus, formed in 2015, has grown quickly since its founding. About 480 students were enrolled in the college of medicine as of fall 2021, up from 244 in the fall of 2017. Throughout its system, WSU has seen enrollment in its health sciences programs increase 93% in the last 10 years. Health sciences research at the university’s Spokane campus has increased at a similar, though slightly slower, rate over the past seven years.

That growth is due largely to the founding of the college of medicine, and WSU Spokane's communications director Chantell Cosner cautions that the campus might see a decline in enrollment in the near future, consistent with decreases in student counts projected throughout the higher education sector. Caveats aside, the growth during the past decade bodes well for the region’s health care industry.

The cumulative effect of the efforts at WSU, UW, and GU adds up to a net positive for a health care sector that’s currently challenged on many fronts. We look forward to seeing it grow further, but for now, we’ll applaud the expansions nearing completion and underway.

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