WSU Spokane Medical School

The Senate Higher Education Committee held a hearing today to discuss Senate Bill 5487, which would allow WSU to operate a medical school on our campus.

UPDATE: Video from the hearing can be viewed here.

Last week, the House Higher Education Committee held its hearing on the companion bill, House Bill 1559.

Let’s recap the legislative process once again with a little help from Schoolhouse Rock, with the disclaimer that the state process is very similar to the federal process, which is featured in this video:

Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), who is the sponsor of SB 5487, opened the hearing by introducing the bill and voicing his support. He soon turned the mic over to Senator Andy Billig (D-Spokane), who echoed Baumgartner’s support.

“This bill is about opportunity,” Billig said, while noting that allowing WSU to operate its own medical school would provide more opportunities for aspiring medical students in our state, as well as eventually provide opportunities for those in underserved areas to access the health care they need.

Currently, there are 120 publicly funded spots for medical students in the state of Washington. There are hundreds more that apply but have to leave the state to study medicine, many never to return. Establishing a WSU medical school is among the ways to address the need.

When health care companies are recruiting doctors, their options in-state are limited.

“The current status-quo is not meeting our needs,” said Dr. Michael Patmas, the CEO of Rockwood Health Systems, referring to his efforts to recruit doctors.

Dr. Francisco Velazquez, the CEO of PAML, noted that a WSU medical school is a perfect fit, given how much the Spokane area supports STEM education in its schools. But Velazquez noted that while there is great support for sciences in the K-12 education system and lots of opportunities for those looking to get into allied health care careers, the opportunities are limited for those looking to go to medical school.

“We have an opportunity to enhance medical education in Washington,” he said.

Kim Pearman-Gillman, a member of the University District Board of Directors in Spokane, told the committee about how the U-District Board has made a full medical school a top priority for the U-District for many years. She also told the committee about one of her daughters who would like to go to medical school, but with just only 120 spots available, “Her likelihood of getting into medical school in Washington is very, very low.”

WSU has made it clear from the get-go that its┬ámedical school plans are not intended to compete with the University of Washington’s successful medical program. While there are details about past funding and future infrastructure allocations to be figured out by administrators, everyone can agree that┬áthere needs to be more opportunities for those Washington residents aspiring to become doctors.

WSU’s medical school model – as noted by Regent Mike Worthy during the hearing – does not call for a teaching hospital or any other capital costs. WSU’s community-based model would send students to communities all across the state for the third- and fourth-year studies. The admissions program – as noted in the hearing by Dr. Ken Roberts, the Acting Dean of the College of Medical Sciences – would actively work to recruit students from underserved communities. Physicians from rural settings are likely to go back home to practice, so reaching out to rural communities is essential for serving the underserved.

So now what?

The House Higher Education Committee is expected to take executive action on its bill this Friday, which means it’ll decide whether to move the bill along or not. In the Senate, any executive action will be taken at a later date, one that has not yet been determined.

As always, visit medicine.wsu.edu to learn more.