Spokane Journal of Business

Healthy Competition: INW universities take steps to fill gaps in medical training

Some new training focuses on leadership in health care

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-—WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
Dr. Luisita Francis is the director of the new health care administration program at Washington State University.

Citing needs to fill community health care and leadership gaps, Inland Northwest universities have launched a cluster of new certificate and degree programs in Spokane in recent months.  

Specifically, three schools have announced three new programs: a certificate in health care leadership developed through the University of Washington School of Medicine-Gonzaga University Health Partnership; a master’s degree in health care administration and leadership from Washington State University; and at Whitworth University the institution formed the School of Health Sciences that accommodates graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in physical therapy and occupational therapy and master’s degrees in athletic training.

While universities across the country are experiencing a post-pandemic drop in enrollment, leaders at these programs say their new offerings were being planned years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“The school was announced this year, but really it’s a continuation of work that has been going on for 15 years or so as we have grown and matured in this area,” says Mike Ediger, founding dean of the Whitworth School of Health Sciences.



In fall 2022, the Whitworth School of Health Sciences enrolled its first cohort of doctoral candidates in physical therapy and occupational therapy, says Carrie Hawkins, founding chair and director of the physical therapy program. Total tuition is about $44,540. 

When the occupational therapy, physical therapy, and athletic training programs are at full capacity, the school will accommodate 230 graduate students, says Ediger. Currently, there are 296 undergraduate students pursuing degrees in health sciences.

Hawkins says that forming the School of Health Sciences helps create a pipeline of qualified students with undergraduate health sciences degrees that can move into graduate programs.

The School of Health Sciences is based at the newly opened Dornsife Health Sciences Building. The three story, 38,000-square-foot facility includes a motion analysis research lab; an exercise, physiology, and human performance lab; and an anatomy lab.

Ediger says he hopes that in the future, the school will move into specialized disciplines within occupational therapy and physical therapy, such as neurology, sports, and pediatrics. 

The physical therapy and occupational therapy programs take about three years and cost about $120,000 to complete, says Hawkins. 

The master’s degree in athletic training is a two year 68-credit program, that will start in the summer. Total tuition is about $44,540.



At Washington State University, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, in Spokane, has partnered with the Carson College of Business to offer its master’s program in health care administration and leadership. Enrollment is now open for the first class in fall 2023.

The degree is designed for health care professionals with three to five years of workforce experience to sharpen their leadership skills and business acumen and help them advance within their careers.

Dr. Luisita Francis, director of the new program, says the 38-credit online degree is made up of three stackable certificates and a capstone course. The certificates, which can be completed in any order, cover foundations of leadership, essentials of health care, and managing the business of health care, she says. Total tuition for the program is $36,100.

Since shortly after the launch of WSU’s medical school, Francis says she and other colleagues have conducted market research on the needs of the community.

“When we talked with our clinical partners … we were always told of a gap in leaders,” she says.

Francis says that partnering with the Carson College of Business is an important component to the degree, which allows students to understand the business of medicine.

The program’s faculty includes health care experts who lead complex hospital systems, academic institutions, and research activities, she says.

Students are expected to develop skills to handle complex developments in ethics, economics, finance, management, policy, and technology, says Francis.

“We’ve really tried to create a master’s degree that covers theory but also practical tools that (professionals) can use,” she says.



In January, the Gonzaga University School of Leadership Studies launched a certificate in health care leadership, which was developed under the UW-GU Health Partnership.

The inaugural cohort has 20 students enrolled who are scheduled to complete the six-month program in June, says Rachelle Strawther, director of the Center for Lifelong Learning at Gonzaga University.

Strawther says the program is comprised of 80 hours of class time and independent learning. Students in the course meet once a month for an all-day in-person class at the John J. Hemmingson Center, located at the Gonzaga University campus. In between in-person meetings, students attend a monthly two-hour virtual session. Tuition for the pilot program is $3,900 per person. The leadership program is led by Stacy Whitaker, a physician assistant who teaches in the Medex Northwest Physician Assistant Program as well.

Students in the hybrid in-person and virtual program will gain skills and knowledge in leadership identity, emotional intelligence, team development and collaboration, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, inclusivity and diversity, problem solving, and leading change, says Strawther.

“Since 2016, the UW School of Medicine and Gonzaga School of Leadership studies has been in conversation to talk about ways to leverage leadership studies with medical studies and how there could be some kind of collaboration to provide more leadership development for future physicians,” says Strawther.

In 2019, the UW-GU Health Partnership created its Leadership Pathway program for UW med students to develop the foundation to become effective leaders within their organizations and communities. The certificate in health care leadership for practicing professionals is an outgrowth of that effort, says Strawther.

“When Leadership Pathway was in year three, that’s when we said it’s a good time to pursue a professional certificate,” she says.

Dr. Darryl Potyk, associate dean for the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of medical education for UW-GU Health Partnership, says physicians often end up in leadership roles without any leadership training.

“Many of us get into leadership roles and suffer trials and tribulations along the way. We approach things in ways that later we say, maybe we could have done that differently,” he says. “There are some who come to (leadership) naturally, but we can’t rely on that, and we have to be intentional about it.”

Potyk says that, when he speaks to CEOs of hospitals, they express the need for leadership training, not just for physicians, but also for nurses, therapists, and people who will be in leadership roles.

Potyk says most participants currently enrolled in the program are sponsored by local health systems that have identified emerging leaders within their organizations.

Strawther adds that it also was important for the program to include rural health care providers, and she has reached out to smaller health care groups to participate.

“Participants from The Native Project, CHAS clinics, Marimn Health are all in our first cohort,” she says.

Karina Elias
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Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

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