America will be coming up 90,000 doctors short within the decade. Here in Washington, it's even worse, as we'll be 4,000 behind by 2030. These are just a couple of the findings in this week's cover story on the push for a new Washington State University medical school in Spokane.
But wait, didn't we all just get done celebrating the opening of UW Medicine-Spokane? Yes, but the partnership, well — it just didn't take. I really wish it had. As a proud Husky, I wish my school had not been so dismissive of Spokane's hopes and needs. UW also seems to have underestimated the size of our doctor-shortage problem. Now that WSU is looking to go its own way, of course UW is making a lot of new promises. But it's too little, too late. They seem most interested in protecting their turf. Yes, we know med schools are not cheap. But as UW Medicine — and super-successful Seattle — knows all too well, they are worth every penny.
The silver lining is that we have set a perfect table to start a local med school here, with facilities, faculty and community support at the ready. WSU has the right leadership, and health care providers around the state are clamoring for doctors. More of the Inland Northwest's best and brightest — those born and raised here — could stay if we had our own med school. Students applying to WSU Medicine would, as Chancellor Lisa Brown puts it, "know exactly where they're going and why they're going there." We want these future doctors to be excited to come here — and to stay in the region.
Spokane is a bit rattled by all this: Should we stay loyal to UW, or should we get behind the WSU plan? To convince people, WSU leadership needs to be out on a listening tour — and they are. They have to take it all in to make their proposal bulletproof. Spokane needs to be guaranteed some measure of input over the strategic direction of the new school. And we must be really sure about those start-up cost estimates that came in so surprisingly low. Spokane needs to get on the same page if we want Olympia to take this plan seriously.
But as we sort through the competing studies and PR blitzes in the coming months, know this: You cannot find a state or a city anywhere that would say they wish they'd never created their medical school. The economic and civic impact is profound. It would start to address our looming health care provider crisis, and it would be a total game-changer for Spokane and the Inland Northwest. If we can't see that, we clearly need to get our heads examined. We better hope we can get in to see a specialist in Seattle. ♦