UPDATE: Marian already has three possible locations for new medical school

Once Marian University completes a feasibility study for a new medical school, it will have to choose a location.

It already has a couple of possibilities.

Two local hospitals—St. Francis and Westview—have suggested Marian could locate the school on property they currently own. And, of course, Marian could build the school on its 114-acre campus on Cold Spring Road.

St. Vincent Health, a longtime partner of Marian, has said it wants to provide a location for Marian medical students to use, but not to host the entire school, according to hospital spokesman Johnny Smith.

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

The university and the Indiana Osteopathic Association announced 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.

“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 nearly 2,300 students.

Bob Brody, CEO of St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers, proposed that the medical school could take up some of the space in St. Francis’ 915,000-square-foot hospital in Beech Grove. St. Francis intends to vacate the hospital in 2012 and hopes a developer turns it into a medical mall, with multiple health care tenants.

“This would be a tremendous application of the space,” Brody said of Marian’s proposed school of osteopathic medicine. He said Elsener approached Brody and other St. Francis leaders a few months ago to seek their counsel on the medical school. The offer of the Beech Grove space came after that.

Westview Hospital, a 68-bed facility at West 38th Street and Guion Road, also has said the school could locate on its property, according to Marian spokeswoman Andrea Fagan.

She stressed, however, that no location decision will be made until after Marian completes 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. Presumably, many of those would prefer to stay in state.

In addition, the Indiana University School of Medicine has seen applications grow by 15 percent to 20 percent for the past five years, suggesting there is enough demand to fill a second school.

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

Marian President Elsener and Brater had breakfast Thursday morning to discuss plans for the school.

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 association turned down Marion-based Indiana Wesleyan University, which said it could have immediately borrowed $75 million to fund the project, according to IBJ‘s NewsTalk blog.

Claphan said the osteopathic association liked Marian’s existing relationships with hospital systems such as St. Francis, St. Vincent Health, 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.

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. When plans for Westview took shape in the 1960s, 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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