OLYMPIA—After receiving broad bipartisan support with 65 co-sponsors in the House and 17 co-sponsors in the Senate, legislation paving the way for a Washington State University medical school has passed its first major hurdle in the state House and Senate. House Bill 1559 and Senate Bill 5487 were voted out of House and Senate higher education committees Tuesday.
“I am pleased but not at all surprised by the strong show of support from the Senate Higher Education committee today,” said Sen. Baumgartner, sponsor of SB 5487. “My colleagues recognize the increasing need for more doctors in this state and the need to expand our medical education in order to meet that need. I look forward to continuing the discussion and fixing this outdated, nearly 100-year-old law.”
The House and Senate bills eliminate a restriction imposed by the state in 1917 giving the University of Washington the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington. That would allow Washington State University to expand an existing medical training facility at its branch campus in Spokane into a separately accredited medical school. Supporters of the school also will seek an appropriation of $2.5 million in this year’s operating budget to begin the accreditation process.
“We have a severe shortage of doctors in rural and underserved communities, particularly in Eastern Washington,” said Rep. Riccelli, sponsor of HB 1559. “Spokane has the existing facilities and Washington State University is ready to go today on opening a new school at a minimal cost. By passing my bill out of committee, we’re one step closer to changing a law written for the 19th century and making real progress in solving our health care shortage in Washington State.”
The law has essentially limited Washington to a single medical school while most states of its size are served by several medical schools. Enrollment by Washington residents at the University of Washington is restricted to 120 each fall. Yet every year Washington produces 350 students who continue on to medical school, meaning two-thirds of them are forced to leave the state.
Many never return, a factor that contributes to a shortage of physicians statewide and a maldistribution of physicians within the state. Just to be at the national average for the number of med-school slots per capita, Washington would need space for 440 students. WSU plans an enrollment that would reach 120 in a decade.
WSU’s concept features an innovative community-based model that spreads training programs to hospitals and branch campuses statewide and avoids the expense of creating a new teaching hospital.
Sen. Michael Baumgartner – Erik Smith: (360) 786-7037
Rep. Marcus Riccelli – Travis Shofner: (360) 786-7224