New Medical School Approved in Washington State

Published December 9, 2014

Washington State University’s board of regents has approved opening a new medical school in Spokane, citing the goal of reducing doctor shortages in eastern Washington. The school will compete with the University of Washington’s existing medical school in Seattle, currently the state’s only publicly funded medical school.

The WSU board’s approval came a day after the consulting firm MGT of America Inc. released its report showing the school is “well-positioned” to start a medical school. The University of Washington School of Medicine had raised objections to the plan, arguing the state did not need two medical schools.

 Dr. John Dale Dunn, an emergency physician and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, described the opposition as “clearly over turf and money,” calling it “a business interest for the University of Washington as the operator or the state’s only medical school. They want to be a monopoly, so they are going to diminish and attack anyone that interferes with their position.”

Doctor Shortage in East

One of the key findings of the report was Washington suffers from a shortage of doctors, especially outside the Seattle metropolitan area. 

Nearly half the state’s physicians are in King County, home to Seattle, but only 29 percent of the state’s population lives in the area. Eighteen out of thirty-nine counties in Washington have ten or fewer physicians per 10,000 people; King County has more than four times as many.

“Washington State University has a good argument for building a new medical school: Rural areas can’t develop without good medical resources,” said Dunn. “When they build a medical school there, it will serve Idaho and Montana as well as eastern Washington, and thus will significantly diminish the prestige and significance of UW’s medical school.”

The University of Washington already operates a well-regarded medical school in Seattle and trains students from five states through its WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) program, including a satellite program in Spokane.

Washington State University’s new medical school would focus on primary care in the rural setting.

Supply of Doctors Restricted

Dr. Roger Stark, a health care policy analyst at the Washington Policy Center and a retired physician, said for years the government has controlled the number of medical schools, the number of graduates from these schools, and their licensure. This has distorted the supply of health care providers, creating shortages in many areas.

“No amount of information or analysis will enable government bureaucrats to know how many doctors, and of what type, the country or our state specifically needs,” said Stark.

Devon Herrick, a senior fellow and health care researcher for the National Center for Policy Analysis, said the problem with entrenched interests such as the University of Washington School of Medicine is the natural incentive to erect barriers to entry for competition.

“This is definitely not a good situation for patients, when those licensed groups block new competitors or the medical society limits the supply of other health practitioners by operating like a cartel,” Herrick said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for The Heartland Institute.