A Health Care Gap (Editorial)

Two bits of news last week highlighted a gap in the state’s education of health care practitioners.

First was the announcement that Arkansas State University was studying public-private partnerships to establish an osteopathic medical school in Jonesboro.

A couple of days later, Gov. Mike Beebe said he was going to seek legislative approval to spend $1.1 million to fund scholarships for Arkansas students attending certain out-of-state medical programs. The Arkansas Health Education Grants program helps students pay for out-of-state tuition at certain schools offering graduate degrees in dentistry, optometry and veterinary medicine.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences provides an excellent education for physicians, but the state lacks programs to train dentists and veterinarians. Arkansas’ citizens, many of them aging and rural, have need of both. The state ranks at the bottom in the nation in the number of dentists per 100,000 residents. And the lack of veterinarians who treat large animals is particularly acute.

UAMS has taken steps toward establishing a dental school, and we applaud the initiative. But the University of Arkansas, which has such a fine agricultural college, now sends prospective veterinarians to Louisiana State University, Tuskegee University, the University of Missouri and Mississippi State.

Money, as always, is tight, but we’d like to know what keeps Arkansas from founding its own veterinary college to help keep some of our best students in Arkansas and perhaps lure other states’ bright minds here.

And as for the potential osteopathic medical school in Jonesboro, we look forward to seeing how the bright and ambitious minds at ASU will engage private enterprise in an effort to train more health care providers in a state that so clearly needs them.