Washington State University is one step closer to opening its own medical school after the state House and Senate passed bills this week removing a rule that prevented the school from training doctors for nearly a century.
Since 1917, the University of Washington has had exclusive rights to operate a medical school within the state. Spokane lawmakers Sen. Michael Baumgartner and Rep. Marcus Riccelli sponsored bills to remove the restriction. Both measures passed, 81-17 in the state House and 45-4 in the state Senate.
The push is one way Washington is trying to address a critical doctor shortage, especially in underserved rural communities on the eastern side of the state. Right now, the state’s only medical school struggles to train enough doctors with limited funding to admit 140 students to study within Washington each year.
WSU wants funding to hire staff and secure accreditation for a new medical school while UW wants to expand its existing program. The bills passed this week would allow for both, but don’t provide funding for either.
Baumgartner, Spokane Republican and prime sponsor of the Senate version, say it’s a small, technical fix, but will go a long way toward providing more doctors in the state.
“Most states have more than one public medical school,” Baumgartner said. “This allows for a tremendous amount of innovation, provides more research and provides more doctors.”
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, spoke against the bill. Instead, he said, the state should focus on loan repayments, residency programs and expanding UW’s program to answer the doctor shortage.
“I don’t think it’s a wise use of our limited resources,” Pedersen said.
The bills now move to the opposite chamber for consideration. Republican leaders said Tuesday either bill could be used as the vehicle to become law.