Eastern Washington medical schools could be of help to rural communities
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.