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In the News

WSU medical school needed to address doctor shortage

WSU Spokane3

A column by Tracy Warner, columnist for the Wenatchee World just posted on the News Tribune digital site. Opining about the need for expanding medical education opportunities, the Warner shares his views that it would be advantageous for Washington State to keep medical students training here — to care for Washingtonians – and once graduated, address the need for rural health care.

Tracy Warner – columnist, The Wenatchee World (reprinted in The News Tribune)

Not enough doctors.

That’s the opening premise in the argument. If we don’t have enough doctors, then we need to make more. If we need to make more then surely we could use a new medical school in the state of Washington, preferably an accessible public institution.

The doctor undersupply might seem distant here in physician-rich Chelan County, with our great medical institutions, but you don’t have to go far to run short of MDs. Grant County has 7.7 practicing doctors for every 10,000 people, according to a University of Washington study. Okanogan has 12.9, Kittitas County, 10.5. Chelan County has 33 practicing doctors per 10,000 residents, but is joined with Douglas County, which has just 4.1. That’s about a fifth of the national average of 22.6, or the statewide average of 22.

Physicians, of course, are not evenly distributed. They naturally congregate in Seattle and King County. And the farther away from Seattle, the older the doctors get. In Douglas County, for instance, 62 percent of doctors are age 55 or older. In Chelan County, it’s 44.2 percent; in Okanogan, 60 percent. Retirement nears. It means we have to recruit or fall behind. Keeping up with our rising population is even more difficult.

The need for new physicians now established, it would help if Washington didn’t export medical students. Our only public medical school, the University of Washington, has a monopoly by the grace of a 1917 statute. It is one of the best anywhere, a point of pride, but its productivity has limits. The University of Washington School of Medicine actually serves five states (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, or WWAMI for short), and just 120 of its yearly 220 seats go to Washington residents. Most of Washington’s qualified medical students head out of state, many never to return.

Thus, there would be a benefit to the state and its residents in a second medical school. Washington State University is more than ready to create a second accredited public medical school, based at its Health Sciences campus at Spokane, said Acting Dean Ken Roberts during a visit to Wenatchee Wednesday.

The beginning step is a change to the 1917 law that granted the UW its med school exclusive. Separate bills to do that, and enable a WSU medical school, have passed the Senate (a 45-4 bipartisan vote) and House.

The second necessity is appropriation, said Roberts. They seek $2.5 million over two years to begin the accreditation process, but that will ramp up. It is good the needed buildings and facilities exist at the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus, where UW WWAMI students already train. No large capital investment is necessary.

The goal is to admit a charter class of 40 students in the fall of 2017, gain full accreditation by 2020, and reach full capacity of 120 students by 2021, said Roberts.

The WSU medical school would be community based, Roberts said. Rather than attaching education to a large, university-owned teaching hospital, WSU students will seek residency education in community health care facilities and small hospitals. These might focus where WSU already has a branch campus – Spokane, Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Everett – but could expand to other communities in Eastern Washington.

Doctors will be trained in the kind of communities where they might practice, will be more likely to choose primary care, and more likely to stay in places with too few physicians. This aligns with WSU’s mission, and will spread a substantial economic benefit.

The University of Washington School of Medicine is a marvelous time-tested, world-class asset for this state, but the need for a second medical school seems clear. WSU and Spokane are ready. The entire state will benefit. This is the time.




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