WSU Spokane meets funds goal for med school

By Zack Briggs Evergreen reporter

WSU Spokane raised $2.3 million to move toward creating a four-year medical program on the Riverpoint campus.

Two years ago, WSU and the UW School of Medicine proposed to raise enough money to alleviate costs associated with a Spokane-based second-year medical education program.

Fourteen private donations contributed to the fund. Nineteen medical students attend WSU Spokane as a part of the UW-organized partnership program called WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho).

“This is the first time that second-year medical education, to become a doctor or physician, will be offered anywhere except Seattle and that’s here in Spokane,” said Terren Roloff, WSU Spokane’s director of communications and public affairs.

WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown broke the news at the Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) annual meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 11, alongside Dean of the UW School of Medicine Paul Ramsey.

“Second-year medical education has always been offered only in Seattle (UW),” said Roloff.

First-year medical education is offered in cities across five states partnered with the WWAMI program. Funding plans began in 2011 when Ramsey collaborated with former WSU Provost Warwick Bayly and Spokane businesspersons to raise the money.

The $2.3 million will go toward a variety of expenses for the next two years.

“That would pay for curriculum development, faculty development, technology and some operational costs,” Roloff said.

GSI is the combined chamber of commerce and economic development council for the Spokane area. A GSI committee gathered the support of 14 companies and foundations such as Empire Health Foundation, which donated $850,000. Other donators consisted of Avista Corp., Group Health and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.

Kevin Dudley, GSI marketing and communicator director, said GSI has been dedicated to growing medical educational in Spokane by convening businesspeople and state legislatures.

“To raise $2.3 million within the business community is quite the feat,” Dudley said.

He said GSI, WSU Spokane and UW have been lobbying the state lawmakers for further operational funds to maintain the second-year medical program and the almost completed Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Building, which will be ready for use by January 2014.

Dudley and Roloff believe a shortage of physicians in rural areas could change in the coming years as more students graduate from WSU Spokane.

“Spokane is a size that may be more appealing to more rural students,” Roloff said. “Hopefully they will stay in these smaller communities to serve as physicians.”

Dudley recalls the time when there was doubt in creating a Spokane medical school.  

“There are people who said we’d never have a medical school here in Spokane 10 years ago,” he said.