Dr. John Tomkowiak hit the ground running as he began to assume his duties as inaugural dean of the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine last week.

Tomkowiak accompanied Dr. Ken Roberts, acting dean of the College of Medicine, on part of a statewide tour for “self study” meetings with our health care provider partners in Spokane, Tri Cities, Vancouver and Everett. From all accounts, those conversations were enthusiastic and fruitful.

From the beginning, one of the differentiating features of the WSU medical school has been the community model on which it is being built. Unlike traditional schools of medicine, the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine will not include construction and management of a large teaching hospital as the training ground for medical students. Rather, it will feature strong partnerships with existing health care providers around the state with the goal of training students in communities where they are needed most. After completing the first two years of their medical education at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, students will be parsed out to one of the four locations mentioned above. There, they will complete their third and fourth years while working at local health care facilities partnering with WSU on medical education.

It is appropriate that WSU, a land-grant university, employ the community-based approach to medical education. A primary mission of land-grant institutions is to fill educational gaps that exist in their states and reach into communities with practical solutions to improve the quality of life of their citizens. Our stated goal has always been the placement of primary care physicians in the regions of the state underserved by the health care system. What could be more effective than partnering with local health care providers to provide this first-hand experience to the next generation of physicians?

The community based approach is a model that Dr. Tomkowiak knows extremely well. He has been instrumental in the success of four community-based medical schools. Two of those institutions had regional campuses and the Chicago Medical School and Rosalind Franklin University Health System, from which he joins us, is in the process of developing a regional campus. Two of the four schools also had a primary care mission. He also was a part of the team that created the new medical school at Florida State University.

At the time his appointment was announced, Dr. Tomkowiak noted that accreditation preparations for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine must be his top priority in the beginning. His commitment, as well as that of the entire institution, to developing relationships with our valuable partners, however, is also key to the medical school’s long-term success.