Washington State University's Board of Regents unanimously approved a plan Friday to establish a medical school in Spokane.
It has the potential to generate 120 new doctors every year in the Northwest. But the move also tees up a fight between Washington's two largest public universities.
The University of Washington in Seattle is currently the state's only public medical school and it serves as the main destination for med students in a five-state area including Idaho.
But WSU-Spokane chancellor Lisa Brown says the program just isn't enough to satisfy the shortage of doctors.
“We are dramatically underserved in the region in terms of access to medical care and seats for medical students,” she said. “Washington state is in the bottom in the country in terms of how many seats we have.”
But the University of Washington has suggested expanding their existing partnership with WSU would be a cheaper option. University of Washington regent Orin Smith said Thursday he was “disappointed” by the anticipated move to open another medical school at a time when the state legislature faces more pressing funding needs.
A study commissioned by Washington State University projects the medical school would cost the state between $1 million and $3 million a year during the planning period and initial startup -- which could be as soon as 2017.
By 2024, when the school reached full enrollment, it could cost $47 million annually.
WSU's medical school would operate under a what's known as a “community-based” model. Medical school students would train in places like Yakima and the Tri-Cities rather than at a central academic hospital.
The feasibility study found the number of available slots for med students hasn't kept pace with the state's population and doctors are disproportionately centered in the Seattle area.