In 2024, the first graduates of the as-yet-to-be-named Washington State University medical school will complete their residencies and begin practicing medicine as full-fledged MDs.
And they'll have Elson S. Floyd to thank for it.
Floyd regularly sought out ways to advance the profile of WSU during his eight-year tenure as president -- the Spokesman-Review lists a $1 billion capital campaign, soaring student enrollment and the establishment of the Paul G. Allen Center of Global Animal Health as major accomplishments -- but no move was as bold as challenging the University of Washington's stranglehold on medicine education in the Northwest by announcing WSU's intentions to pursue establishing its own medical school.
It was portrayed as a long shot. Those people clearly did not know Elson S. Floyd very well.
Remembering Elson Floyd
Remembering Elson Floyd
Floyd's brainchild came to fruition in March when state lawmakers repealed a nearly 100-year-old statute that prohibited anyone but UW from teaching medicine in the state. He deftly maneuvered through a landscape in Olympia that tends to favor western Washington interests, calling on the political capital built up as the longest-tenured university president in the state.
In an April story in the Seattle Times, Gene Sharrat, executive director of the Washington Student Achievement Council, said "he is the most recognizable higher-education president in Olympia today."
Added State Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, who heads the House's higher-education committee: "He has played enough different roles in higher ed in Washington state that he tends to know who to talk to."
Floyd used those skills to change a lot of minds.
"I came to believe, with the size of our state — and we're a growing state — there is ample opportunity to expand our medical-school offerings," Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said in that story in the Times.
He worked tirelessly on behalf of the university to see the measure through, testifying for hours in front of committees and holding countless one-on-one meetings with lawmakers.
And we now know that he did it all while battling terminal cancer. The precipitous weight loss was obvious to anyone who saw him in person or in pictures; the suits were too big, the cheeks had sunk in. But that disarming smile remained, even as there must have come a point during the legislative process when he suspected the end might not be far off.
That a man pushing for the establishment of a medical school would die of cancer shortly after winning the initial battle is ironic in the sense that not even modern medicine could save him.
But looked at another way, it simply underscores why this medical school was worth fighting for in the first place. We have made tremendous strides in treating insidious diseases such as cancer; my son, who is nearing the end of treatment for leukemia, is a testament to that, and most of us know someone -- likely multiple someones -- who have survived cancer.
As long as we're still losing people like Elson Floyd, though, we still have a long way to go to get where we want to be. The establishment of a medical school at a world-class institution such as WSU might not cure cancer (at least, not at first), but it's another great step toward ensuring that everyone in this country can have the finest health care the United States can provide.
And it will pay dividends for WSU, too. There's a special profile for universities that house medical schools, which in turn attracts a higher caliber of student to the general student population; also, since every graduate is a potential future donor, it never hurts to generate alumni who will generally enjoy a financially rewarding profession.
This -- along with bringing back a family-like atmosphere befitting Pullman to his administration -- is Floyd's legacy at our school.
Which is exactly why, in the fall of 2017, there's only one choice for the name of the school that WSU's first class of 40 medical doctorate candidates will be attending.
The Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine at Washington State University.