- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Two Spokane legislators introduced bills Wednesday that would help pave the way for a new Washington State University medical school in Spokane.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican, and state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Democrat, introduced the bills in each chamber. Baumgartner’s bill has a total of 17 co-sponsors and Riccelli’s has 60 co-sponsors, which he said showed broad support.

The bills would eliminate a restriction dating from 1917 that gives the University of Washington in Seattle the exclusive right to operate a public medical school in the state of Washington. The UW medical school admits only 120 Washington medical students each year.

“A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle support stronger, more vibrant medical instruction in Washington,” Riccelli said. “Multiple medical schools are the norm in most states.”

Washington State has proposed opening its own medical school in Spokane to address a big shortage of doctors across the state, especially in rural areas. The school commissioned a study showing it is well-positioned to pursue an accredited medical school.

The University of Washington has proposed that its existing medical programs be expanded, and has commissioned a study showing that is the most cost-effective way to produce more doctors in Washington.

The two universities have agreed not to oppose each other’s proposals in the Legislature. Lawmakers will decide which, if any, expansion of medical education to fund.

Washington State University proposes to expand an existing medical training facility at its branch campus in Spokane into a new medical school. The university will seek an appropriation of $2.5 million in this year’s operating budget to begin the accreditation process, the lawmakers said.

“I am pleased but not at all surprised by the strong support for this bill,” Baumgartner said. “We’re saying a law written nearly 100 years ago should not dictate the way we teach medicine in the 21st century.”

The lawmakers said the law has limited Washington to a single medical school, while most states of 7 million people have multiple medical schools.

Enrollment by Washington residents at the UW medical school is limited by funding to 120 each fall. Yet every year Washington produces 350 students who continue on to medical school, meaning two-thirds are forced to leave the state, the lawmakers said.

Many never return, a factor that contributes to a shortage of physicians statewide and an unbalanced distribution of physicians within the state, the lawmakers said. Half the state’s doctors are based in King County.

Just to reach the national average for the number of med-school slots per capita, Washington would need space for 440 students, the lawmakers said. Washington State hopes to enroll 120 medical students within a decade.

Riccelli said 67 percent of medical school students settle in the state where they receive their undergraduate and graduate medical training.

“By having top-notch schools on both sides of the Cascades, we can reduce the doctor shortage across the state, particularly in the small communities across Eastern Washington where family physicians are needed the most,” he said.

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