Eastern Wash­ing­ton med­i­cal schools could be of help to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Tri-city Forum Opinion - By The Walla Walla Union-Bul­letin

Ac­cess to qual­ity health care is some­thing ev­ery­one wants. But the ob­sta­cles to that are more than cost and in­sur­ance cov­er­age: They in­clude a crit­i­cal need for more doc­tors — par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral Amer­ica.

Two med­i­cal schools now lo­cated in Spokane are, at the least, ex­pos­ing doc­tors in train­ing to life in Eastern Wash­ing­ton. And that should, in the long run, bring more doc­tors to this side of the Cas­cades.

Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity’s year-old El­son S. Floyd Col­lege of Medicine and the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton’s Eastern Wash­ing­ton School of Medicine, run in part­ner­ship with Gon­zaga Uni­ver­sity since 2016, have 240 first- and sec­ond-year med­i­cal stu­dents be­tween them.

To this point, West­ern Wash­ing­ton has been where it’s at for med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion. And, in re­al­ity, it’s still where most doc­tors will do their train­ing. It also has a larger pop­u­la­tion, which is why most of the doc­tors fo­cused on spe­cialty medicine will end up there.

Still, some of those go­ing to med school in Spokane are more likely to stay in Eastern Wash­ing­ton or take a job in some other ru­ral area, had they not been trained in the In­land North­west.

That starts with the type of stu­dents the two med­i­cal schools are at­tract­ing.

The stu­dents who choose Spokane are older, and more are women — in keep­ing with a na­tional trend of more women than men en­ter­ing med­i­cal school, wrote Kather­ine Long, a Seat­tle Times re­porter who trav­eled to Spokane to look at the im­pact to the re­gion of the two med schools. At UWGon­zaga, the 2018 en­ter­ing class in­cluded 38 women and 22 men; at WSU, 36 are women and 24 are men, Long re­ported.

Be­yond that, these fu­ture doc­tors want to be in Eastern Wash­ing­ton,

“We have more stu­dents who want to be in Spokane than we can ac­com­mo­date,” said Dar­ryl Po­tyk, as­so­ciate dean for UW’s Eastern Wash­ing­ton School of Medicine. “It speaks vol­umes about how happy the stu­dents are.”

The stu­dents at both schools won’t spend all their time in Spokane. They will even­tu­ally spread out across the state.

Af­ter WSU’s stu­dents fin­ish their first two years in Spokane, about a quar­ter will stay in Spokane, and the rest will go to Everett, the Tri-Cities and Van­cou­ver.

“Our mis­sion is to serve the en­tire state,” WSU med­i­cal school Dean John Tomkowiak told Long.

The UW-Gon­zaga pro­gram will also have many of its stu­dents do clin­i­cal ro­ta­tions out­side Spokane.

But, Long re­ports, de­spite the ex­pan­sion in Eastern Wash­ing­ton, there is still a short­fall of about 150 doc­tors a year in the state — even if all the stu­dents train­ing at WSU and UW-Gon­zaga stayed here.

Nev­er­the­less, the two med­i­cal schools in Eastern Wash­ing­ton are help­ing to fill that gap while boost­ing the chances some of those doc­tors will opt to live in Walla Walla or other Eastern Wash­ing­ton cities.

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