"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

On medical ed, and then some

Lane Rawlins, who has been president of Washington State University throughout this decade, says he will be leaving the post next year; at 68, his retirement comes at an understandable point. But it makes this next year a critical point for WSU and medical schooling in the Northwest.

Lane RawkinsRawlins is a truly experienced old hand at university administration. His years at WSU go back four decades, and his bio notes that he “served as department chair and then as WSU’s vice provost. He returned to WSU in 2000 after serving nine years as president of the University of Memphis and before that as academic affairs vice chancellor of the University of Alabama System.” And his years at WSU have been relatively smooth and solid, a time of growth but not explosion.

That makes his role in what could be an important development at WSU – expansion there of medical school facilities – potentially significant.

The question of medical education in the northwest – the states serviced by the regional co-op WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) – has become a live one in the last couple of years. There’s been some discussion in Wyoming about local medical education. There’s been more than that in Idaho, where a number of partisans of Idaho State University at Pocatello – including its former interim president and to an extent it’s new leader as well – have proposed a long-term plan for developing a medical school there. (To be sure, quite a few Idaho leaders consider the idea improbable; butr who knows?) That regional pivot is a substantial component in the medical school system at the University of Washington at Seattle, where it is based.

So how does, or should, Washington respond? An AP news story Friday reported that “The presidents of Washington State University, the UW and Eastern Washington University said Friday they will ask for the funding when the Legislature meets in January. If approved, the plan calls for 20 more medical students and eight dental students to be admitted each year to the University of Washington programs. First-year students would take classes at Riverpoint, WSU’s Spokane campus.”

You can imagine how WSU might seize on this foot in the door. But will it get that far?

That may have a lot to do with Rawlins’ work on the subject between here and his retirement next time – a stretch including the next legislative session. The new president of WSU is unlikely to have the chits or gravitas to make things happen the way Rawlins might. His last year in the presidency could turn out to be a significant pivot in medical education, and its expansion and direction, in the region.

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