Gonzaga Strengthens Medical & Nursing Education Programs

By Mary Joan Hahn, Director of Community & Public Relations, Gonzaga University

Partnership with University of Washington Brings Medical Education to Gonzaga’s Campus

Walking across the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane, WA, his mind overflowing after several hours of studying, first-year medical student Justin Thompson reflects upon the two crosses atop St. Aloysius Church.

“Taking classes at Gonzaga is special,” Thompson said. “It reminds me of the importance of being part of something greater than myself.”

Thompson is among 120 first- and second-year medical students benefiting from the Regional Health Partnership formed between Gonzaga University (GU) and the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) in February 2016 to help meet the state’s physician shortage, and to train future physicians for lives of leadership and service. Thirty-one UW MEDEX students are pursuing physician assistant degrees on GU’s campus as well.

Gonzaga is the first private university to join UWSOM’s five-state medical education network. Spokane medical students spend the first 18 months of their training on GU’s campus before embarking on clinical training throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the states served by UWSOM, known collectively as WWAMI.

For more than two decades, UWSOM has held the No. 1 ranking in the nation for Primary Care, Family Medicine and Rural Medicine education; the collaboration with GU adds to that academic excellence. Faculty who teach medical and MEDEX students represent a mix of UW and Gonzaga professors, local practicing physicians and medical professionals.

“The GU community welcomed us with open arms, and has been integral to helping us establish key partnerships in Spokane that reflect our shared values, and the greater good we both serve,” said Darryl Potyk, M.D., UWSOM Associate Dean for Eastern Washington and Chief of Medical Education for the partnership. “Together, we are not only educating the next generation of health professionals, we are ensuring the health and well-being of our region, and beyond.”

Shared projects capitalize on the values embodied in GU’s Jesuit heritage:

  • GU sociology professors and UWSOM faculty are launching a joint study to look at the healthcare needs of food bank recipients. Students are assisting with the research.
  • GU’s Organizational Leadership Program is working with UWSOM to develop a “Leadership Pathway” to present instruction on management skills required of students to become good doctors, and on how to become compassionate community servants.
  • GU’s Multicultural Unity Education Center conducted a diversity workshop that earned a WWAMI Pro Award for Professionalism.
  • GU’s Center for Cura Personalis is developing brown bag sessions to help medical students with stress, mindfulness and the emotional demands of healthcare.
  • The Center for Community Engagement has helped to connect medical students with local service learning opportunities.

“Although we have different educational cultures, one public university and one private, we share a common goal of providing a rich and varied educational experience for our students,” said Gonzaga President Dr. Thayne M. McCulloh.

Thompson, who serves as president of the medical student association, notes the benefits that he has received from the melding of a public university with the qualities of a private Jesuit university. He believes they will make him a better doctor someday.

“What I appreciate most is that Gonzaga shares our values and goals to become better-rounded people,” he said. “Gonzaga’s commitment to the dignity of the human person, and their solidarity with the poor and vulnerable remind me of why I want to be a doctor—to meet patients as they are, to bear witness to their story, and to heal with both medicine and understanding.”

Gonzaga Nursing Programs Grounded in Care, Compassion & Community

This fall, 65 undergraduate nursing students at GU were asked to consider what their lives would be like if they were elderly living on small Social Security checks, members of the so-called “working poor,” or part of a large family that depended upon food stamps.

“The goal of our poverty simulations class is to better understand the stress and strains [that our] patients endure,” said Susan Boysen, GU professor of Nursing. “And it reflects the Jesuit values of servant leadership, social justice and community here at GU.”

Gonzaga’s nursing programs stretch back decades – they fill a growing and critical need in Spokane and rural communities throughout the region, and, as one of the first online programs in the West, far beyond. In 2013, GU’s Nursing Department, along with the Departments of Human Physiology and Nurse Anesthesia came together to become the new School of Nursing and Human Physiology. The recently revised nursing curriculum prepares BSN students to care for an aging population and to work within the rapidly changing health care environment.

Gonzaga offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) plus online courses that lead to the following degrees: Registered Nurse to Master of Science in Nursing (RN to MSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Second Master’s Degree, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. The Bachelor’s, Master’s, and DNP programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and the nurse anesthesia program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education programs (COA). At just a few years old, GU’s innovative nurse anesthesia doctoral program, co-sponsored with Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, focuses on clinical anesthesia and leadership.

Many of GU's faculty continue to work in health care, providing students with insight into the real-life challenges faced by nurses every day. And all students receive the benefit of Jesuit teachings. For example, students enrolled in nurse practitioner practicum courses come to campus once per semester for an intensive weekend that includes an evaluation of diagnostic reasoning skills using patient scenarios, as well as an orientation to Jesuit values, tenets of social justice, and the role and value of reflection in their practice.

Practicum experiences for all students purposefully address vulnerable populations and those who lack access to high-quality care. BSN students work in hospice, Red Cross and tribal clinics, and community health centers. Students are also challenged to confront their own personal biases or lack of knowledge. For example, a student who may lack experience with or exposure to the poor may be assigned to work in a homeless clinic.

“This is the kind of experience that helps students understand what they are bringing to the profession as individuals,” said Jeffrey Ramirez, chair of Nursing. “Exercises in forgiveness, lessons in learning not to judge and how to accept people as they are, help to imbue a Jesuit ethos in all students.”

Lin Murphy, interim dean of Nursing, concurred. “Our vision is to transform nurses and nursing. We believe that nurses care for the whole person and that we play an essential role in our community’s overall health and well-being."

All photos by Gonzaga University.