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New Medical Schools Focus On the Future-in the AAMC Reporter

By Brian Hedger, special to the Reporter

July 2010

New Medical Schools Focus On the Future

Medical schools are in full expansion mode.

Propelled by common themes of improving access to health care, producing more physicians, boosting local economies, and advancing team-based medicine, several new and proposed schools have recently received preliminary accreditation or are in some stage of development.

Following in the footsteps of new medical schools in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute recently received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). The former, located in Rochester, Mich., is recruiting its first class of 50 students. While the LCME has granted preliminary accreditation to Virginia Tech’s medical education program, the school, located in Roanoke, Va., is still awaiting institutional accreditation from its regional accrediting body.

In addition, Hofstra University School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y., recently received “preliminary accreditation” from the LCME, while eight other proposed medical schools in Florida, Michigan, California, New Jersey, and South Carolina are in the initial applicant stage. The total number of LCMEaccredited U.S. medical schools is now 133.

“It really is an exciting time,” said Cynda Johnson, M.D., M.B.A., president and founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute. “All of us in the new schools have worked together on this effort to produce more medical schools, and we have really bonded during the process.”

Leaders at the new and developing schools discovered similarities and differences along the way, from the way they plan to educate students to the way each school was created. M. Brownell Anderson, AAMC senior director for educational affairs, said each school was created in part as a response to a greater need for more doctors, both locally and nationally, although she emphasized that more medical schools will not fully solve the issue.

“One of the reasons for many of these schools is to try and produce more physicians, physicians who can respond to the changing needs of society, including those who can take care of an aging population with many chronic or complex conditions, and physicians skilled at working in interprofessional teams,” Anderson said. “More has to change than just new medical schools, but these new institutions are really going to address both national needs, and the medical needs of their communities.”

The medical schools at Virginia Tech and Oakland University are both creations of public-private partnerships. In Virginia, the Carilion Clinic—a private health care organization with more than 600 physicians and eight not-for-profit hospitals—decided to expand its reach into medical education by joining with Virginia Tech, which wanted to delve further into medical research.

“Altogether, it is something that both partners think will make a huge difference for the economy of the region and fill out what each partner is able to do,” said Johnson, who before joining Virginia Tech served as dean of East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. “On the Carilion side, they’ve had 60 years in medical education and some research, and Virginia Tech was starting to get into more pockets of biomedical research. So, they decided to bring those things together.”

Virginia Tech-Carilion’s medical education philosophy is primarily rooted in research, which Johnson said is important for future physicians to utilize and understand. Students will learn how to apply research in patient care, and will also spend time performing service-learning projects in the local community and serving in free clinics.

“For the physician of the future, part of the practice of medicine will be to know and be able to use research principles,” Johnson said. “That is going to be essential and inseparable from the practice of medicine. This is a school where research principles are fully integrated into teaching students how to be practitioners.”

The school will also teach students how to work in teams with other health care professionals—a growing trend across medical education. Students will work on solving health problems based on real-life cases, and each Friday they will meet a patient who can provide firsthand experiences.

Johnson said that is just one area where having such a large private health care system like Carilion Clinic as a partner comes in handy. The broad Carilion infrastructure could eventually attract grant support from the National Institutes of Health and other sources—a potential boon for the local economy.

“The medical school is its own entity, so we get the best of both,” Johnson said. “Virginia Tech already had a lot of basic science teaching faculty and expert researchers, and the Carilion doctors are also very skilled in teaching.”

A similar public-private partnership was formed in Michigan between William Beaumont Hospital and Oakland University.

Beaumont Hospital is a 1,700-bed hospital system serving greater Detroit, while Oakland University is a research-intensive public university. Combining them to form the state’s fourth medical school was a perfect match, said Robert Folberg, M.D., founding dean of Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

“This was a natural growth for this university,” Folberg said. “This was the next step in its maturation. People hear ‘Oakland University’ right now and they think it’s in California. They hear ‘Beaumont,’ and they think it’s in Texas. The medical school is the connector that allows both institutions to grow.”

There is also hope that it becomes a bandage for the ailing economy in Oakland County.

When the idea for the school first surfaced in 2007, the local economy had not yet collapsed under the weight of skyrocketing unemployment. The driving factor behind forming the school initially was a need for improved access to quality health care.

Now, there is talk that the new school could actually bolster a new local economy driven by the medical field—a feeling that is matched across the state, with medical schools in the works at Central Michigan and Western Michigan universities.

“Oakland County in Michigan is home to more than 4,000 entities that are biomedical or medical or point to something in the medical field,” Folberg said. “The medical school will hopefully be a rallying point, sort of a medical Main Street, that ties together all of these enterprises.”

Beaumont owns a top-of-the-line simulator and has a roster full of experienced physicians eager to teach, Folberg said. Like many new medical schools, Oakland-Beaumont will emphasize small-group instruction and an integrated learning experience.

But at this school, the twist is that the integration will be with the entire university, not just within the health professions. For example, a professor from the school of communications could teach future physicians how to ask their patients pertinent questions.

Students can also get extra financial aid in their fourth year if they opt to pursue a research project with “high scientific merit” or “social impact” and are showing good progress in their third year. It is an incentive program designed to boost student interest in areas of need—and sticking with them after graduation.

“You can’t force anybody into anything,” Folberg said. “That’s why in their first year they will learn a lot about their project construction, and then they’ll spend three-and-a-half years completing it. Our expectations are that they will find something really exciting that fascinates them. The hope is, ‘Why would you want to do anything different?'”

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