Two Medical Schools Bring Professionals, Research Dollars for Beginning Medical Students, Spokane Now Most Attractive

By Long, Katherine | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), November 24, 2018 | Go to article overview

Two Medical Schools Bring Professionals, Research Dollars for Beginning Medical Students, Spokane Now Most Attractive


Long, Katherine, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


This year, more new medical students are starting their careers in Spokane than in Seattle.

Why does it matter? Here in Washington and elsewhere across the nation, there's a shortage of physicians in rural areas and small cities, a problem that's expected to worsen as a generation of baby-boom doctors retires.

The hope is that getting students to train in Eastern Washington will sway more of them to stay east of the mountains, or to make their homes in smaller communities and rural areas, and to focus on primary care instead of specialty medicine - known for being more lucrative.

In all, 240 first- and second-year medical students are taking the first steps toward careers as physicians in Spokane, either at Washington State University's year-old Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine or at the University of Washington's Spokane location, run in partnership with Gonzaga University since 2016.

Despite the expansion in Eastern Washington, it's still not enough. If all the students training at both UW-Gonzaga and WSU stayed in Washington, "We'd still have a gap of 100 to 150 doctors a year," said WSU medical school Dean John Tomkowiak.

Western Washington is still the epicenter of medical training for the region. Many student physicians will finish their third and fourth year west of the mountains, and most medical residencies - the graduate-level training that happens after a student completes four years of medical school - are located in the Puget Sound area. But at least for the first two years, more new docs are in Spokane than anywhere else in a five-state region.

The presence of two medical schools in Spokane has been a benefit to the city, research by the Washington Employment Security Department showed. It brought more highly paid professionals to the area, pushing up wages by nearly 4 percent.

The schools have also brought about $23 million in new research dollars to Spokane. "It raises the bar of education" in Spokane, said Mike Wilson, the retired CEO of Providence Health Care Spokane, who now chairs the community-advisory board for the UW-Gonzaga regional-health partnership.

"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 new schools are attracting students like Liz Thomas, 31, who worked for years as a Seattle Central College instructor teaching anatomy and physiology classes at the Capitol Hill community college. There, Thomas helped many of her students finish the prerequisites needed to go to medical school.

One day, one of her students overdosed on heroin in the college's bathroom.

"I saw it coming, and I didn't know what to do," Thomas said. "I didn't have the tools to prevent it - no training, no background." The student survived, but for Thomas, it was a pivotal moment.

After spending years helping other students get into medical school, she decided that she, too, wanted to become a doctor. And she found her medical-school fit in Spokane, at WSU's College of Medicine, rather than in Seattle.

Spokane's long quest

for a medical school

For years, Spokane civic leaders tried to create a medical school. The issue played out in the Legislature, which in 2015 voted overwhelmingly to change a provision in the law that allowed only the UW to operate a medical school. …

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