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Boise Beforehand

Idaho's push for medical schools


In 2007, the Legislature must decide how to tackle a statewide interest in local access to a general-college system that doesn't yet exist. But 40 years ago, the editors of usually compatible liberal weeklies, the Intermountain in Pocatello and Boise's Idaho Observer, were thinking even bigger than that. Each wanted an Idaho medical school in its home town:

"Parochialism is not dead," intoned the Intermountain. "It is at Boise, in Idaho's largest population center, that another Idaho opportunity can best be seized--a chance to found a proto-medical college with the Veterans Administration hospital and the 200,000 people of southwestern Idaho as its clinical base."

"The presence of a mature life sciences program at Idaho State University in Pocatello prompted a furious Boise editor, whose owners include promoters of the Boise project, ... to [say] that the state board of education did not take into account the Boise effort as part of its new effort to define accomplished facts and the directions of feasible growth for state institutions." The board was asking the legislature to authorize a $3.5 million life sciences building, citing the 742 ISU students enrolled in life sciences.

Sam Day, writing in the Observer, said that "typifies the piecemeal character of the board's approach to higher education." The Intermountain rebutted, "We cannot stint ISU's effort to assuage the parochial concern we might find in Boise for a school that does not yet exist. We cannot use ISU's head start to checkmate the imminent breakthrough at Boise. Nor can we ignore the other have-nots in medical education--Nevada, Montana and Wyoming--who are looking over our shoulder and have offered ... to work with us."

In 2007, one speculation is that technology millionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., father of Utah's eponymous governor Jon Huntsman, may have encouraged the newest activity toward medical education in Idaho. Long ago, Huntsman senior was a staffer at Pocatello High School, and today knows that a construction dollar or a teaching dollar in medicine goes much further in Pocatello than on the Wahsatch Front, where he invested as much as eight figures in cancer research in years past.

If the Boise area's population center and Idaho's eastern-slope affinity with northern Utah can skip the parochialism, the time may be ripe for the health sciences to replenish Idaho's aging health technicians--nurses, EMTs etc.--and also at last to start making doctors out of Idaho students by creating resources on both sides of the state.

Publisher's note: These notes from Perry Swisher, publisher of The Intermountain in Pocatello from 1952-1967 and Idaho Observer in Boise, and former Idaho legislator, provide a glimpse into the not-so-long-ago past, bringing perspective on where we have been and where we are going. He has kindly provided insight based on old copies of both publications that were graciously provided to us recently by a reader after cleaning out the garage. "Boise Beforehand" will appear occasionally in Boise Weekly.