EDITORIAL: Marian’s bold act is inspirational

July 27, 2013

About a decade ago, when Marian University came up with the outlandish idea of starting a medical school, few imagined it would really happen. And no one could have predicted the circumstances surrounding its arrival: a shortage of primary care physicians about to be made worse by health care reform.

Now, two weeks before Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine welcomes its inaugural class, the idea looks more brilliant than outlandish—in both execution and timing.

Osteopathic schools such as Marian’s tend to turn out large numbers of primary care physicians, and we need them now more than ever.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, will extend health coverage next year to millions of Americans who didn’t previously have insurance. That will increase the demand for primary care doctors and exacerbate a shortage that was already brewing thanks to retirements and the large number of medical school students who are drawn to specialty fields. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the shortage will grow from 30,000 physicians in the next few years to more than 60,000 in a decade. In Indiana, more than half the counties have a shortage.

Many believe the small Franciscan university will turn out doctors eager to practice medicine in the poor and rural communities across the state that lack access to health care. So, the timing couldn’t be better.

What’s most impressive is the execution of the plan by Marian President Daniel Elsener, who came up with the idea that, for the university to succeed long term, it needed to think big. And think big is what he did when he began a campaign to convince leaders in health care and the broader community to support what is the state’s second medical school—the first since Indiana University started its school of medicine 110 years ago.

The initial skepticism of some of those leaders melted away when they sensed Elsener’s passion for the idea and began to realize he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Along the way, he collected pledges for an astounding $100 million, $40 million of which is already in hand.

It helped that leadership at St. Vincent Health and Community Health Network quickly got on board. The biggest gift by far, and the one that started a bandwagon effect, came from an individual, Michael Evans. Evans, who at the time was in the process of selling his company, AIT Laboratories, for $90 million, pledged $50 million to the school, primarily because he believed Elsener could make it happen.

Starting a medical school from scratch relatively quickly seems almost as unlikely as a sleepy Midwestern city growing up and hosting a Super Bowl. But people with big dreams and the determination to get others on board can do great things.

We commend Elsener, Marian University and all the supporters of the new medical school for doing the unthinkable. It’s a signature achievement that will help Hoosiers for years to come.•

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