Meeting the state’s healthcare needs

WSU to explore creation of a medical school

The University will build on a 124-year commitment to serving the state’s needs and capitalize on its strengths in the health sciences. The next step? To study establishment of a WSU medical school in Spokane.

Media Coverage and Additional Information

Ratio of  Physicians to Population, State of Washington

Physicians per 10,000 residents

21.9- 24.7
8.7- 13.8

The need to train more primary care physicians for rural areas is acute.

The United States averages about 26 physicians per 10,000 individuals, and the ratio is about the same in the state of Washington. But a closer look reveals that 16 of the state’s 39 counties average fewer than 10 physicians per 10,000 residents. These residents live mostly in rural areas, where hospitals and clinics often struggle to attract doctors to their communities.

No. of residents in the U.S. to physician ratio

Rural Washington resident to physician ratio

Experts predict the situation will worsen with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as baby boomers age, as the number of doctors retiring increases, and the number of new primary care doctors remains relatively low.

Washington is the 13th most populous state in the country, yet it is tied for 26th nationally for the number of publicly funded medical schools offering a doctorate of medicine (one). The average number of medical schools for the 12 states with a higher population than Washington is 6. Massachusetts, with a population slightly less than Washington, has four.

Medical School Graduates:  Washington vs. Missouri

Most states have multiple medical schools. In fact, other states with populations smaller than Washington but with more medical schools include Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Washington provides 120 seats for in-state medical students. Missouri—with a population similar to our state—provides approximately 500 seats.

The WSU Spokane campus is the center of health sciences education and research in eastern Washington.

WSU has worked closely with Spokane’s business, healthcare, and nonprofit leaders for 25 years to establish its Spokane campus as the center of health sciences education, research, and outreach in eastern Washington. Establishing a medical school is a logical next step. Spokane already is the premier healthcare center between Seattle and Minneapolis.

The campus in downtown Spokane’s University District currently is home to nationally respected WSU programs in the medical sciences, pharmacy, nursing, and sleep and performance. The University also offers programs in speech and hearing sciences, nutrition and exercise physiology, and health policy and administration at the Spokane campus.

Beginning in 1971, WSU trained first-year medical students on its Pullman campus and Spokane hospitals guided third- and fourth-year students through clinical rotations as part of the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) medical education program. The WWAMI program is part of a collaborative medical education program accredited through the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

In 2008, WSU began teaching the first-year medical students on its Spokane campus. Five years later, in 2013, second-year medical education was added, making it possible for a student to complete all four years of medical education in Spokane, the first two on campus and the last two in clinical settings.

Cutting-edge facilities are in place at WSU Spokane.

Dedication of the $80 million, 125,000-square-foot Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Building in December on the Spokane campus is the most recent example of WSU’s commitment to creating world-class facilities for preparing future healthcare professionals.

Research labs and adjoining offices for faculty and graduate students, as well as classrooms for the Doctor of Pharmacy professional degree program and administrative offices, occupy two-thirds of the new building.

Professional students practice in both sterile and nonsterile compounding labs, a mock pharmacy, a mock hospital room with a human patient simulator, and a sterile clean room. The research space is on two floors with an open concept, creating synergy between faculty and students from different labs.

Faculty and students in the Medical Sciences, including those in the WWAMI Medical Education program and the WSU Speech and Hearing program, occupy the rest of the facility. Biomedical research faculty and graduate students enjoy the same open concept laboratory space on one floor of the building, and the classrooms for medical students include a specially equipped anatomy lab.

The College of Nursing moved into the new Nursing Building on the Spokane campus in 2009. The $34.6 million, 89,000-square-foot facility houses state-of-the-art technology for patient simulation, computer and multimedia laboratories, research team space for data analysis, cutting-edge distance learning classrooms to support the college’s statewide mission, and faculty and administrative offices. The college graduates more entry-level nurses than any other educational institution in the state.

Sleep and performance studies are conducted in one of the globe’s best-equipped labs in the Sleep and Performance Research Center. The 10,000-square-foot facility includes two contiguous laboratories, a sleep research laboratory, and a simulation laboratory. Together they form an integrated sleep/wake/work facility, the only one of its kind in the world.

The Health Sciences Building, dedicated in 2002, anchors the health sciences facilities on the Spokane campus. The $39 million, 146,000-square-foot building houses the WSU Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, the University Hearing and Speech Clinic, jointly managed by WSU and Eastern Washington University (EWU), and EWU programs in communication disorders, dental hygiene, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

Additional new WSU medical initiatives in Spokane are underway.

In addition to the medical school study, WSU is moving ahead with two other medical initiatives:

  • Creation of a Teaching Health Center clinic on the Spokane campus. Medical, nursing, and pharmacy students, as well as students from the campus’s allied health programs, will collaborate at the clinic to serve area residents’ healthcare needs. Providence Health Care and the Empire Health Foundation are also partners in the venture, which recently received $900,000 from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to fund six new medical residencies on campus. That number could grow to 18 if additional funding is approved.
  • The WSU Faculty Senate recently voted to bestow college status on the University’s Medical Sciences program. The Board of Regents approved the proposal at a meeting in May. Medical Sciences includes not only WSU’s medical education program, but also a growing research portfolio and the University’s Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

A medical school will enhance WSU’s team approach to the health sciences.

To be successful today, healthcare practitioners must collaborate with professionals from a variety of health sciences disciplines. That’s why you’ll see future physicians working at WSU Spokane campus health fairs alongside future nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, speech pathologists, exercise specialists, and others from the WSU, EWU, and the UW health sciences programs.

WSU is a major research university with scientists engaged in meaningful health sciences research in Spokane as well as in Pullman. Researchers are leading studies in genetics, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, drug addictions, neuropharmacology, fatigue and sleep, and exercise physiology, among other topics.

In addition, the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health on the WSU Pullman campus focuses on delivering innovative solutions and preventive healthcare for animals and humans. The efforts are concentrated on diseases originating in animals that pose threats to humans, such as avian flu, West Nile virus, and HIV.

A medical school in Spokane will help deliver a potential $2.1 billion economic impact statewide.

An economic impact study completed in 2010 by Tripp-Umbach, a leading expert on analysis of health science campuses and medical colleges, found that development of the downtown Spokane campus as a health sciences-focused enterprise would drive growth in the regional healthcare sector, with an eventual statewide economic impact of $2.1 billion per year. Of that, $1.6 billion in economic impact would be felt in eastern Washington.

Continued growth in the health sciences enterprise at the campus will spur pharmaceutical companies, medical device makers, health care analysts, and bioscience innovators to locate in Spokane and form partnerships with the burgeoning campus.

Media Coverage

Frequently Asked Questions for proposed WSU medical school

Q: How long has Washington State University been involved in medical education?

A: WSU became one of the first participants in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s five-state WWAMI (Washington Wyoming Alaska Montana Idaho) program in 1972, the year it accepted its first class of 10 first-year medical students with the class size eventually growing to 20. Those Pullman students studied with an initial cohort of nine Idaho students whose contingent also grew to 20. Classes were taught in Pullman and Moscow.

Q: When did Spokane become involved in medical education?

A: Spokane hospitals began accepting WWAMI third- and fourth-year students for clinical rotations in 1974, two years after the Spokane Family Medicine Residency program began. Spokane hospitals now employ approximately 75 residents in several programs. Classroom education started in 2008, when, after a campaign by Spokane community leaders, WWAMI added WSU Spokane as a participant and assigned 20 first-year medical students to study on the university’s downtown Spokane campus. In the fall of 2013 WSU Spokane added 19 second-year medical students as part of a two-year pilot program testing whether the UWSOM’s second-year curriculum could be exported to WWAMI sites in other states.

Q: Why is WSU working with a consultant on medical education?

A: WSU believes there’s an opportunity to help satisfy the growing demand for physicians in Washington and it already has significant infrastructure available on its Spokane campus. The university is asking an outside, nationally-recognized, consulting firm (MGT of America) to research the costs and benefits of WSU creating its own medical school. After the firm hands over its final report, WSU will review the findings and decide whether to proceed.

Q: How much is the university paying MGT of America to do the study?

A: About $250,000. The money was donated by a private party.

Q: Why does WSU believe Washington needs another medical school?

A: There are several reasons.

  • Washington’s population has more than doubled in the last 40 years, from about three million in 1970 to about seven million today. During that time the University of Washington School of Medicine’s (UWSOM) enrollment increased by only 20 students (about 15%); that came in 2008 when the Spokane WWAMi site was created. Washington admits and trains only 120 students per year, one of the lowest ratios of medical students/population in the nation. Another 220 students left Washington last year to train at other states’ medical schools. We know that most doctors tend to stay and live in the areas where they train. If we can train more physicians, we can retain more physicians.
  • Washington’s ratio of medical students/population is one of the lowest in the nation.
  • The state and national physician workforce is aging. According to the American Medical Association, the number of doctors approaching and passing retirement age is increasing. The American Association of Medical Colleges and other agencies project growing shortages of physicians. Washington needs to increase the number of physicians it trains just to keep its  insufficient number of physicians stable.
  • The increase in demand for health care services will continue to increase as more people buy medical insurance or qualify for publicly-funded insurance. In addition, our regional population is aging; older people typically need more medical attention.
  • Only one-in-six Washington physicians in 2005 (according to a 2009 University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies report) attended medical school in this state, the 14th lowest rate in the nation. To compare, Nebraska had the highest rate of instate-trained physicians at 61%. We believe Washington can retain more physicians if it trains more physicians in the state.
Q: What is the process involved is creating a WSU College of Medicine?

A: WSU is working with MGT of America, a consulting company that helped Florida State University move forward with creating its medical school. MGT is studying for WSU the costs it will incur, the benefits it will derive and strategies it might adopt as it moves toward creating its own fully-accredited medical school. That report is due in the summer of 2014. Based on those results, WSU administrators must then decide whether to move forward. If the answer is yes, WSU would work to build the political and financial support needed.

Q: If WSU decides to create a new medical school, when would it open?

A: There are too many variables to be able to precisely answer that right now, but the fall of 2018 is a good aiming point.

Q: How many students would a WSU College of Medicine enroll?

A: WSU Spokane administrators believe an initial class of 40 would be a good size, given the current infrastructure, with plans to quickly grow.