WSU Spokane's health sciences building on the Riverpoint campus
When Kirk Schulz took over as Washington State University president earlier this year, he said one of the main things that attracted him to the job was the chance to open the second publicly funded medical school in Washington.
He won't have to wait much longer.
This week, the school passed a major milestone in its goal to enroll the first students into the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine by August 2017. WSU received preliminary accreditation from the accrediting agency in the U.S. and Canada: the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
That means WSU can begin recruiting students, though it can't accept them until early November, after WSU is voted into the Association of American Medical Colleges.
"This is a significant moment in Washington State University's 126-year history," said Schulz in a statement. "It puts us one step closer to educating physicians who will practice in Washington's underserved communities and furthers the university's land-grant mission to serve the needs of the state."
The University of Washington used to partner with WSU to offer medical education in Spokane, but that changed after WSU announced plans to launch its own medical school. The two schools butted heads
over the plans to expand medical education in Spokane, with the UW concerned WSU's program would hurt their the UW's expansion plans for Spokane. The two sides later came to an agreement that WSU would freely pursue its own medical school.
Late WSU President Elson Floyd sold state legislators on his vision, convincing lawmakers
to change a 100-year-old provision that allowed only University of Washington to operate a medical school in the state. Gov. Jay Inslee signed that bill into law a year and a half ago, and the legislature also gave WSU $2.5 million to begin the accreditation process. Floyd died in June 2015 after a battle with cancer.
The UW, meanwhile, partnered with Gonzaga for its medical education program. This school year, as part of the partnership with the UW, Gonzaga welcomed 60 new medical students
on its campus in September — the largest-ever class of medical students in Spokane.
But with WSU receiving preliminary accreditation this week, the rift between the two medical school programs seems to be in the past. Schulz last week told the Inlander
that he was supportive of the UW-Gonzaga partnership, saying both medical schools will be good for Spokane. And Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh issued a statement yesterday congratulating WSU for receiving accreditation.
"This is a wonderful step toward continued growth of health science education and related research for the Inland Northwest, and a significant milestone for Spokane," McCulloh said.
WSU expects 60 students in its inaugural class. Students will receive medical education across four of WSU's campuses: Everett, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver. The goal, according to the school, is to help fill health care gaps in rural and medically underserved areas of the state.
John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the college of medicine, said students training in different settings across the state will increase the likelihood that they remain here to practice medicine.
"We're absolutely ecstatic," Tomkowiak said. "My team has worked so hard to get us to this point. Now we can move ahead with our work to begin recruiting medical students and preparing doctors to meet the state's health care needs."