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In the News

WSU medical school in Spokane gets big boost in Legislature

wa state capitol
Joel Connelly – SeattlePI

Washington State University would be able to launch a medical school in Spokane under legislation passed Tuesday in Olympia by the Senate and House Higher Education Committees.

The legislation rescinds a restriction, imposed 98 years ago, that the University of Washington would have the only public medical school in the Evergreen State.

“We have a severe shortage of doctors in rural and under-served communities, particularly in Eastern Washington. Spokane has the existing facilities and Washington State is ready to go today on opening a new school at minimal cost,” said state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, a sponsor of the legislation.

Washington State must still get money to launch its new med school. It is asking $2.5 million to begin the accreditation process.

The legislation would allow WSU to expand an existing medical training facility at its Spokane branch campus into a separately accredited medical school.

It passed unanimously in the Senate Higher Education Committee. “My colleagues recognize the increasing need for more doctors in this state and the need to expand our medical education in order to meet that need,” said state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, the legislation’s chief Senate sponsor.

Despite pushback from some at the UW Medical School, the legislation appears to have a strong tailwind in Olympia. It has 65 cosponsors in the 98-member House, and 17 cosponsors among 49 state senators.

Arguing to repeal the 1917 restriction, sponsors have made the point that states smaller than Washington have more medical schools.

The House Higher Education Committee cleared the bill by a 12-1 vote. State Rep. Gerry Pollett, D-Seattle, tried to amend the legislation to allow for a one-year study of the state’s medical needs. He lost on a voice vote.

In an apparent reference to Catholic-run Providence-Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Pollett offered an amendment to require that med school students get “medically based, accurate and appropriate information” in fields that would include reproductive services. He withdrew the amendment after reassurances from Riccelli.

The Senate panel rejected a provision that WSU reimburse the University of Washington for money the UW claims it is owed for medical school operations in Eastern Washington.

A total of 120 Washington residents get admitted to the University of Washington Medical School each year. About 350 students from the state begin medical studies (pre-med) each year. Advocates say that two-thirds must leave the state for their education, and that many do not come back.

Seattle is a globally recognized center for medical research.

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