For the first time in nearly a century, Washington State University can open its own medical school.
The state Senate today approved a bill to remove a 1917 rule that gave University of Washington exclusive rights to train Washington’s doctors. House Bill 1559, sponsored by Spokane Rep. Marcus Riccelli, passed 47-1 and now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.
It’s one of the ways the state is trying to solve a critical doctor shortage, especially in Eastern Washington, where people in some rural communities must commute for hours to see a primary care doctor.
UW operates a five-state program to train doctors in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. It’s called WWAMI, an acronym for the first letter of each state. Right now, the program has enough funding to admit 140 medical students to study within the state each year
To serve people statewide, lawmakers predict they’ll need more than 1,700 new primary care doctors before 2030. “We’re facing a drought. And I’m not talking about a lack of rain,” Spokane Sen. Andy Billig said on Wednesday. “I’m talking about the lack of healthcare providers, and particularly primary care doctors. This bill will help solve that problem.”
Sen. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, was the sole lawmaker in the chamber to vote against the bill. He previously said the state has limited resources and should focus on expanding its existing medical program instead of creating a new one.
The bill doesn’t provide funding for WSU’s medical school. It only removes UW’s monopoly on medical, forestry products and logging engineering majors.
Both universities are seeking funding for their respective programs.