Marian University to launch state’s second medical school

Marian University wants to launch a new medical college in 2012 in a bid to stem the state’s shortage of primary care physicians.

The university and the Indiana Osteopathic Association are scheduled to announce plans Friday to raise $75 million and enroll as many as 150 students in the first class. The school already received a commitment of $30 million from an anonymous donor.

It would be only the second medical college in Indiana and the first time doctors of osteopathy would have a school of their own here. Osteopathic medicine has a long tradition of focusing on overall wellness and sends more of its graduates into primary care—a pressing need right now.

“We think we have a chance to really add something in terms of physicians to the medical community,” said Dan Elsener, president of Marian University, a Catholic school of 2,287 students on Indianapolis’ northwest side.

Elsener had breakfast Thursday morning with Dr. Craig Brater, dean of the state’s only other medical college, the Indiana University School of Medicine. The two stressed that they plan to collaborate, not compete.

But the arrival of a new school might cause the IU medical school to back off its growth plans, launched two years ago to meet a physician shortage in Indiana, Brater said. He thinks two schools training doctors could eliminate Indiana’s doctor shortage.

“We need to kind of analyze this from both a pure numbers perspective and a timing perspective,” he said.

Because of cuts in state allocations, the IU med school has received no additional funding even as it has expanded its class size by 42 students to 322.

Indiana is 3,500 physicians short of what it needs, according to a 2006 study by the IU medical school. One of the biggest areas of need is in primary care—family and general practitioners, internists, pediatricians and OBGYNs. Such doctors are particularly scarce in rural areas of the state.

Sixty-two percent of the 855 doctors of osteopathy in Indiana are primary care physicians. By contrast, 44 percent of IU’s most recent medical school graduates went into primary care.

“The IU med school is an excellent institution, but their graduates are not going in to primary care medicine,” said Mike Claphan, executive director of the Indiana Osteopathic Association.

The next step for Marian is to conduct a feasibility study to confirm that Marian can attract the funding, faculty and students to make a new school work. That study will be key for securing an OK from the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

About 100 Hoosiers each year go to one of the 26 other colleges of osteopathic medicine nationwide, Claphan said. Presumably, many of those would prefer to stay in state.

In addition, Brater said the IU med school has seen its applications growing by 15 percent to 20 percent for the past five years. So he thinks there will be plenty of students to fill both schools.

“We don’t see this as competition. We see that as something that can enhance medicine in the state,” Brater said, adding that some of Marian’s students might be able to use some of IU’s facilities, such as its simulation center.

The Indiana Osteopathic Association, which endorsed Marian’s plan on Jan. 5, might help to fund that study, Claphan said. The association turned down one other school, which Claphan declined to name, in large part because it liked Marian’s existing relationships with hospital systems such as St. Vincent Health, St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers and Community Health Network.

The new medical college will need to sign on hospitals like that to provide clinical training for its students’ third and fourth years of medical school.

Also in the mix will be Westview Hospital, a 68-bed hospital at West 38th Street and Guion Road. Opened in 1975, it is the only osteopathic hospital in the state.

The differences between doctors of osteopathy, or DOs, and doctors of medicine, or MDs, are subtle. Doctors of osteopathy receive the same training as doctors of medicine, but go through extra training on the muscular and skeletal systems. DOs use their hands to move muscles and joints to diagnose, treat or even prevent illness and injury.

But DOs were sometimes barred from “mainstream” hospitals. At the time Westview opened, some doctors of osteopathy were still complaining of such treatment. Since then, animosity between DOs and MDs has almost completely disappeared.

Elsener acknowledged Marian will have a lot of work to do before getting the school open. Fall 2012 is the most realistic opening date, but he acknowledged it might get pushed back to fall 2013.

Marian would spend about $30 million on a new facility to house the school, and have a sizable payroll to support a dean, medical instructors and researchers. He said he does not know how many people the new college would employ.

"We really intend to be a top-tier medical school,” he said. “We’re not just doing this.”

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