SPOKANE, Wash.-- An open house held at Gonzaga University tonight celebrated the start of a new medical education program, offered by GU and the University of Washington.

In 2014, UW’s longtime medical education partner Washington State University announced plans to build its own medical school. After obtaining the rights to provide medical education, WSU’s school is in the accreditation process to become the state’s premier community-based medical program.

In an effort to keep their nationally ranked medical education in Spokane, the UW reached out to Gonzaga.

Two years later, 100 medical students are at home on Gonzaga’s campus. 60 are first-year students, the other 40 are in their second year.

As the program develops, both Gonzaga and the UW hope to increase the class size to 80.

The UW has provided medical education to the eastern Washington community by way of the WWAMI program, a union of universities in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

According to GU president Thayne McCulloh, this year's incoming class at the Gonzaga campus is the largest the WWAMI program has seen in Spokane.

UW has consistently received national recognition for its family and rural medicine training.

According to UW research, there are 107 general–care physicians per 100,000 people in King County, the most populous county in Washington.

That compares to 84 per 100,000 in Spokane County, 57 in Stevens County and 36 in Lincoln County.

This is, in part, a result of varying population densities.

But for Gonzaga and the UW, improving access to healthcare throughout the state is a priority.

“We need to train good physicians in Spokane and we need to keep them here,” said medical student Mara Hazeltine.

Hazeltine is a Spokane native who received studied at the University of Washington as an undergraduate. After participating Teach for America, she says she realized the importance of medical access in rural, less urban populations.

She returned to the UW for medical school, jumping at the chance to study in Spokane.

She says that maintaining high quality medical education in eastern washington gives the people a chance at the healthcare they deserve.

“It means a great deal to have a school that trains doctors on the east side of the mountains,” Hazeltine said. “It gives our people a fighting chance at the healthcare they deserve,” she said.