by Rob Brewster

As our community continues to struggle with job loss, business growth and retention, it's important to search out new, modern concepts to help stimulate the economy and create a region that is economically sustainable and profitable for all those who choose to do business here. Spokane needs a regional plan for creating economic diversity, economic sustainability and prosperity.

It's vital that we focus on something Spokane already succeeds at -- medicine. It's time to talk about starting a medical school right here in Spokane.

The concept of growing Spokane's great medical community would develop Spokane into a hub for the health sciences in the vast region between the Cascades and Minneapolis.

In the late 1800s, Spokane opted to receive a Tuberculosis Sanatorium over a state university (WSU). Today, we must finally make strides to recover from what proved to be a colossal error and start developing a regional plan for education that will in fact include more graduate and doctoral programs. Spokane needs a medical school: It's possible and it's an excellent idea.

When economies develop, there is very little direction given by leadership and outside forces. Often, business leaders and educators simply stumble upon ideas and implement them through the necessary channels. In Spokane, we need to draw upon our skills as a strong medical community.

We are fortunate to have a flourishing biotech institute in Spokane, which will reap wonderful results in the coming years. A medical school, of course, would have a symbiotic relationship with a biotech community. Of course, a medical school is more general than the highly specific biotech industry; therefore, it could generate all sorts of new ideas, business concepts and even non-medical products.

Focusing on general medical development will open more doors and provide greater economic stability, because it provides and supports the basics. When various areas of the economy are flat or declining, medicine will always be a growth industry.

Anyone in medicine can tell you that the growing shortage of qualified healthcare professionals is critical and unprecedented. A solid medical program doesn't just provide physicians, but it becomes a training program for top-quality allied health and nursing professionals of all kinds. Our great hospitals in Spokane can only benefit from such a sharp economic tool. Spokane's medical community is hurting from cuts in Medicare reimbursements, continued unfounded litigation and the bureaucratization of most modern insurance companies. Spokane cannot afford to take the back seat, losing more doctors to other states and hemorrhaging intellect. Spokane must develop and operate a medical school that will instill the sense of preeminence in our community both by attracting new talent and by retaining existing "brains."

The fact is, there are only 122 medical schools in the United States. Coupled with the proposed medical school, moving the Medical Research Institute idea forward will make Spokane the forerunner in medical sciences, a strategy that is essential to the kind of economic future Spokane deserves.

There is little question that there are obstacles to a medical school -- governance and funding being just two of them. But these issues can be solved. The legislature has enacted a large capital proposal for higher education. A medical school can be funded from this source. Olympia can also insist that the UW Medical School work with Spokane on this institution. Even without the obvious funding, the money is available -- 1 percent of the north/south freeway alone would pay for a new medical school. Eventually, with the right economic powerhouses, Spokane can afford the luxury of having perfect streets.

This is a pivotal moment in the life of Spokane. So many important economic elements are either available right here, right now or have started coming together in the past decade. But now is the time to cement our future as a city with a viable economy. One of the key components to this "sustainability" is the creation of an educational facility that will stimulate intellectual thinking in our community. A medical school is one of the ideas that I feel is vital, exciting and -- at this moment -- ripe with possibility.

To move forward, we still need dynamic, creative and energetic leadership. Unquestionably, our community needs to attract and retain more highly educated professional people. For that to happen, the first steps require that we have better leadership in our business community and most certainly in local and state politics. Even more important than the obviously essential dynamic, creative and energetic qualities of the ideal leader, we must develop or discover a leader capable of unifying these groups.

It's time that we in the Greater Spokane Region break our pattern of negativity. It's time to put all our energy into staying focused and productive. With a renewed sense of community-wide cooperation, Spokane can become a place we're proud of, and a place where our next generation will choose to stay and make their home.

Rob Brewster is a real estate developer who has renovated buildings around

downtown Spokane, including the Holley Mason building.

Publication date: 10/02/03

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