UW Regent Orin Smith and I were in Spokane today sharing the findings of a comprehensive, independent analysis of the costs and benefits of medical school expansion efforts in Spokane and Eastern Washington.
The report, conducted by Tripp Umbach, comes on the heels of a 2010 study — commissioned by Greater Spokane Incorporated — which found that rapidly expanding the existing UW-led medical program in Spokane into a four-year medical school would contribute to an estimated economic impact of $1.6 billion and 9,000 jobs over a 20-year period. The report released today reaffirms those findings. It also confirms that an expanded UW School of Medicine in Spokane is the most cost-effective use of taxpayer funds to grow the state’s physician workforce.
Growing the UW School of Medicine in Spokane has several distinct advantages. First, we are poised for rapid expansion now. This legislative session (starting in January) we will ask the Legislature for funding to double our medical school class size in Spokane. When fully enrolled, the school will have 320 students, with 80 graduating each year, nearly as large as our class size in Seattle.
Next, the UW has an established track record of creating medical residencies in Washington state, both as a medical provider and as a partner with healthcare organizations across the state. As the Tripp Umbach report notes, increasing the number of medical school graduates is only part of the equation. The highest predictor of where doctors will stay and practice is where they do their medical residencies. In order for graduates to get jobs in our state and practice in areas we need them most, we must have more residencies. The UW is working with the state Medical Association on a request for the next legislative session to expand residency programs in underserved areas of the state, especially in Eastern Washington.
Finally, the UW’s national leadership in research and commercialization will fuel economic development in Spokane. The faculty of the UW School of Medicine are the best in the country at competing for and attracting research dollars to support their work. The UW also leads the country in startups and innovation. UW faculty already participate in 40 joint research projects in Spokane — from behavioral health to diabetes research — and with an expanded UW School of Medicine, we will build on our existing collaborations and seek new opportunities in a city that is clearly entrepreneurial and ambitious.
There is still a lot of work to do. While our successful 40-year medical education partnership with Washington State University is ending, we are committed to expanded opportunities for growth and impact in Spokane. As we grow, we also look forward to a more visible and active presence in the community. We’re in the process of establishing a dedicated leadership team and cultivating new academic partnerships. And, as you may have heard, our bid to transform the city of Spokane Visitor Center into a UW headquarters for our community development efforts has been recommended to the City Council, and we are optimistic it will be approved next month.
It’s an exciting time for the University of Washington in Spokane. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the incredible Spokane medical community, business community and political leadership that have helped us achieve so much to date. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the community to help grow a vibrant, innovative economy in Spokane, and to ensure all Washington residents have access to the highest quality health care.
I invite you to read Tripp Umbach’s complete analysis online.
We’re very optimistic about our future here with you, together.
Michael K. Young