Meet the first dean of WSU's Spokane-based medical school


he first 60 medical students started at Washington State University's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine this fall. John Tomkowiak, a psychiatrist by training, is serving as the medical school's founding dean.

Tomkowiak, who came to WSU from serving as dean of the Chicago Medical School, is full of ideas for how Spokane's new med school should try to distinguish itself.

1. Treat the Whole Community

A traditional medical school is laser-focused on educating doctors, wherever they are. But a community medical school has another mission as well: Treat and improve the surrounding region.

That means asking questions to local doctors, business leaders, and citizens, in an attempt to understand what the Spokane region needs the most."[It means] really listening to the drum of the community, and trying to figure out what the needs are, and how we do we match the needs," Tomkowiak says.

Doctors flood into big cities, but many rural areas have little to no access to quality medical care. Eastern Washington is no exception. Tomkowiak says the new medical school will create a "health tech incubator" to focus on addressing medical needs in rural areas.

2. Focus on Preventing Sickness

Traditionally, patients only see doctors when they're suffering. But by that time, treating the patient is often incredibly expensive and difficult. It's better to focus on keeping them healthy.

"We have to prevent disease to begin with," Tomkowiak says.

He recognizes that means preparing students for a huge shift in medical philosophy, while simultaneously teaching everything a traditional doctor needs to know.

"We know that the future of health care really lies in the understanding of wellness and well-being," he says.

3. Train Doctors in Leadership

"Physicians don't have training in leadership, but are called upon to be leaders," Tomkowiak says.

He says that's a huge problem; bad leadership leads to dysfunctional teams, and dysfunctional teams often make huge mistakes.

"Communication is the number one reason that medical errors occur," he says. "We're embedding a certificate of leadership within our M.D. training... Four master-level courses."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...