Senate passes WSU med-school bill with overwhelming bipartisan support

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

OLYMPIA… The Washington state Senate Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure allowing Washington State University to teach medicine – the first step toward establishing a Washington State University medical school in Spokane.

The 45-4 vote for Senate Bill 5487 is a huge win, not just for Spokane but for the entire state, said the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. An identical measure, House Bill 1559, cleared the House Monday by a vote of 81-17.

“I am pleased but not at all surprised by the support we are seeing from both sides of the state for the WSU medical school,” Baumgartner said. “I’ve said from the beginning that I would not allow this to turn into the Apple Cup of medical education. The state needs more doctors – the problem is that simple.

“A new WSU medical school will help produce the doctors we need and will be an engine of economic growth creating thousands of jobs. Go Cougs.”

The House and Senate bills eliminate a restriction imposed by the state in 1917 giving the University of Washington the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington. That would allow Washington State University to expand an existing medical training facility at its branch campus in Spokane into a separately accredited medical school. Supporters of the school also will seek an appropriation of $2.5 million in this year’s operating budget to begin the accreditation process.

The law has essentially limited Washington to a single medical school while most states of its size are served by several medical schools. Enrollment by Washington residents at the University of Washington is restricted to 120 each fall. Yet every year Washington produces 350 students who continue on to medical school, meaning two-thirds of them are forced to leave the state.

Many never return, a factor that contributes to a shortage of physicians statewide and a maldistribution of physicians within the state. Just to be at the national average for the number of med-school slots per capita, Washington would need space for 440 students. WSU plans an enrollment that would reach 120 in a decade.

WSU’s concept features an innovative community-based model that spreads training programs to hospitals and branch campuses statewide and avoids the expense of creating a new teaching hospital. The House and Senate bills also allow WSU to launch a forestry program.