A WSU Medical School: What We Envision

WSU Spokane Campus

The following was written by Dr. George Novan, FACP, Associate Dean, WSU College of Medical Sciences, for the April issue of The Message, a publication printed monthly by the Spokane County Medical Society (SCMS). It is republished here with permission from both Dr. Novan and the SCMS.

It’s not often a person has a chance to be part of starting a new medical school. We at Washington State University have been picturing what we want to create with a new WSU College of Medicine.

To understand the direction in which we are headed, let’s begin by explaining what our university is. WSU is a land-grant university. Under the provisions of the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Acts, states received federal lands to sell in order to finance the establishment of universities. The mission of these land-grant universities was to provide a practical higher education for their citizens who then would apply their new-found knowledge and skills to the benefit of those states.

In a new book*, Abramson et al. write that teaching, scholarship and extension-outreach remain the core missions of a modern land-grant university. Furthermore, scholarship and teaching comprise:

  • “A commitment to research, especially research of a practical nature and research that has special benefit for the state and nation.”
  • “The training of students who will provide the professional, scientific and academic workforce of the future.”

With these ideas in mind, the concept for a WSU College of Medicine is to develop practical solutions to challenging problems in healthcare delivery, healthcare access and disease prevention consistent with our land-grant mission. This sounds good, but what does this mean? It means we want to focus on realistic solutions to meet the needs of all communities and all citizens in our state, whether those citizens be future patients or future students. It means that we have to think beyond Spokane. We have to think statewide in how we support our state’s communities and citizens.

Solutions will include:

  • Creating curricula in anticipation of what healthcare might look like in the future
  • Developing a pipeline system — starting as early as middle school – to attract those who may have thought a healthcare career was out of reach
  • Training more students and doctors within their own local communities
  • Leveraging interprofessional training to benefit those communities lacking healthcare resources
  • Attending to the needs of the underserved
  • Placing an emphasis on health and wellness

What will the school look like? It will be traditional for its first two years. Spokane will be the base for our research faculty and facilities. Our faculty will teach clinically relevant scientific foundations of medicine to first and second year students. It will be nontraditional in the curriculum delivery. It will be a curriculum geared to today’s students — students who expect the ability to learn via asynchronous lectures and other on-line learning tools, students who expect us to guide them through burgeoning medical information, and students who expect to use class time applying what they have learned to deciphering clinical vignettes.

Beyond the basic science years, our school will become even more nontraditional. We will establish regional clinical campuses around the state which will serve as hubs for nearby rural communities. Third and fourth year students will spend their last two clinical years in one of these regional campuses. While we will assign some of our students to Spokane for their two year clinical stint, most will be at our other regional clinical campuses. After all, we are a land-grant university with extensions in every county and with a responsibility to support those counties.

Since it is our mission to reach out to communities, then it is incumbent upon us to seek out ideas and possible solutions from those communities themselves. As we formulate a curriculum, we will seek input not only from physicians in Spokane but also from physicians in communities in which our clinical students will be embedded. We will also ask our current and former students for their ideas. We will want to know from practicing clinicians what they would like to see in future students who will come to do their clinical rotations with them. We will be asking students how they would like to be taught.

There is a lot of work to be done to build a medical school, but it is exciting work. The formation of this medical school will benefit Spokane and it will benefit our state.


1. Abramson CI, Damron WS, Dicks M, Sherwood PMA. History and mission. In: Sternberg RJ, ed. The Modern Land-Grant University. Purdue Univ.; 2014:11-12.