Washington State moving ahead with medical school

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Washington State University is moving ahead with plans to launch its own medical school in Spokane, President Elson Floyd said Monday.

WSU has launched a search for a founding dean of its medical school, and plans to hold its first classes in the fall of 2017, Floyd said.

"Medical education is alive and well in Spokane," Floyd said at a news conference on the campus of WSU Spokane, where the new medical school would be located.

The state Legislature this year changed a state law that had given the rival University of Washington sole authority to operate a public medical school in Washington. Even as the Legislature continues to debate how much money it will appropriate toward a new medical school, WSU is moving forward with its plans, Floyd said.

The school has an ambitious timeline that calls for gaining preliminary national accreditation next spring, provisional accreditation in 2018 and full accreditation in the fall of 2020.

At the same time, it will begin recruiting medical students in the summer of 2016, and graduate its first class of medical students by the spring of 2021.

Washington State officials contend the state suffers from a severe shortage of physicians, especially in rural areas.

Washington State's plan calls for medical students to spend their first two years in Spokane, then two more years at WSU campuses in the Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Everett or Spokane.

Also, Floyd said WSU remains willing to continue supporting the University of Washington's existing medical education programs in Spokane.

Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill that ended the 98-year prohibition against opening a medical school at Washington State University.

Inslee said the increases in state population and in the number of Americans with health insurance makes opening a second medical school a better plan than trying to recruit doctors educated in other states.

But the bill did not appropriate any state money to a new school.

Current budget proposals by House Democrats and Senate Republicans each contain different amounts of funding. The House bill calls for transferring $9.3 million from WSU to UW to support UW's existing medical school programs in Spokane, and backfills $6.7 million of that transfer to WSU, including $2.5 million for the new medical school. The Senate allocates $2.5 million to the new medical school.

Floyd said WSU's medical school would seek to produce family practitioners and would seek to increase the number of graduates willing to work in rural areas. One way to do that is to recruit medical students from rural areas, he said.

Meanwhile, the University of Washington has proposed that its existing medical programs be expanded, and has commissioned a study showing that is the most cost-effective way to produce more doctors in Washington.

The two universities have agreed not to oppose each other's proposals in the Legislature.

Supporters of the new medical school say enrollment by Washington residents at the UW medical school is limited by funding to 120 each fall. Yet every year Washington produces 350 students who continue on to medical school, meaning two-thirds are forced to leave the state.

Many never return, a factor that contributes to a shortage of physicians statewide and an unbalanced distribution of physicians within the state. Half the state's doctors are based in King County, which includes Seattle.

Just to reach the national average for the number of med-school slots per capita, Washington would need space for 440 students, WSU supporters say. Washington State hopes to enroll 120 medical students within a decade.

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