Acting dean makes the case for WSU medical school

By Ken Roberts, acting dean, College of Medical Sciences

Roberts-KenSPOKANE, Wash. – In the recent issue of the WSU College of Medical Sciences newsletter, acting dean Ken Roberts makes the case for a medical school at Washington State University:

I want to start this column by welcoming our newest – and largest – medical class to WSU Spokane. This year we have 40 first-year WWAMI (Washington Wyoming Alaska Montana Idaho) students joining us on campus, in addition to nine second-year students. Another 30 third- and fourth-year students are spending most or all of their required and elective rotations in the city’s hospitals; 69 others are doing at least one rotation in Spokane.

That shows a strong and growing medical education program in Spokane.

As we look ahead to continuing that growth, we’re encouraged by what we’re hearing from our consultant, MGT of America, as it investigates the feasibility of creating a new WSU medical school. Although MGT’s report won’t officially be released for at least a few more weeks, we’re encouraged by what we’ve learned so far.

A WSU medical school would need very modest start-up funding to build the faculty and administration necessary to run the new school and go through the process of accrediting our program. We anticipate beginning with a class of 40 students, the size that we’re now teaching, and building to 120 over several years.

Our startup costs will be low compared to the costs incurred by other U.S. universities that have created medical schools in the last 10 years. Why? We already have a state-of-the-art facility capable of handling classes of up to 120 students, so we wouldn’t need additional capital funding. And we already employ many of the faculty we would need to teach our classes.

In addition, we will use a community-based model of medical education that has proven to be cost effective in other programs around the country. That model allows us to partner with existing hospitals and health systems around the state, rather than building our own hospital.

It is a model that complements, rather than competes with, the University of Washington’s medical education program and expands the state’s capacity for training physicians.

With an independently-accredited WSU medical school, what would we get for our money?

• We would get a strong medical education program with an emphasis on primary care.
• We would be able to control our own admissions process, which means we could target students with a desire to work in primary care careers and rural areas. We know that doctors who pursue careers in rural medicine often grew up in rural areas.
• We would be able to develop strong pipelines with local schools and universities to identify students interested in becoming primary care doctors and funnel them into pre-med programs and then on to a WSU medical school.
• We would tailor our curriculum to emphasize primary care and to prepare our students for the practice of medicine in the 21st century.
• We would have a growing medical research program. Many of our faculty members who now teach spend a majority of their time doing basic and applied research in areas such as cancer, sleep and neurobiology. They bring in grant funding that would help to pay for a medical school.
• Along with that medical research would come economic development opportunities through partnerships with private companies and development of new products and services.

WSU has been proud to be a part of WWAMI since 1971 and we look forward to continued involvement as an equal, fully-accredited partner. But our region needs more than WWAMI if we want to satisfy our growing collective demand for health care.

We’re confident that a WSU medical school would provide a cost-effective alternative for Washington students who now must leave the state to attend medical school (and who often never return).

Learn more about WSU medical sciences online at