Another Osteopathic Medical School for Arkansas Under Consideration

The Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation has been added to the list of organizations that want to open an osteopathic medical school in Arkansas.

Arkansas State University at Jonesboro also has announced its intention of opening a school.

Both organizations have feasibility studies in the works to decide if they will move forward with the idea.

Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation Chairman Kyle Parker said that if the consultants give the green light, which might be in March or April, the foundation will start making moves to begin the school. “We feel very confident or, obviously, we wouldn’t have started this project,” Parker said.

If everything goes according to plan, a school could be opened in two years.

On the consultant’s “to study” list is where to put the school. Parker said it hasn’t been decided whether to construct a building or rent about 30,000 SF.

Parker said the school will be a private institution and will not seek state funding.

To pay for the school, the foundation has about $50 million “to invest in the health for underprivileged and underserved in this region” and the rest of Arkansas, Parker said.

He said the school anticipates about 600 students, which would help ease the shortage of physicians in Arkansas. Arkansas is ranked 48th among states in physicians per capita based on a 2010 study by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Center for Rural Health.

The Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association is supporting the Fort Smith project. “We’re excited to work with them in addressing their needs to serve the underserved and indigent in Arkansas,” said Frazier Edwards, executive director of the association. “Our association initiated this project over five years ago, and we initiated the statewide project.”

ASU’s Progress

ASU also is working on its plans for an osteopathic school.

It is in talks with the New York Institute of Technology to see if they can agree on opening an osteopathic medical school on the Jonesboro campus.

“Preliminary results of the feasibility study are very encouraging,” Jeff Hankins, a spokesman for ASU, said in an email in response to questions. He said he expects to receive and release the final study this month.

“The need for more primary care physicians throughout the Delta is clear, and Arkansas State is well positioned to help fulfill the need,” Hankins said.

There would be enough students to support both schools, said Boyd Buser, vice president for health affairs and dean of the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. “There are enough aspiring candidates,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an issue.”

There are about 82,000 osteopathic physicians in the United States, according to the American Osteopathic Association. But only about 300 of those are in Arkansas.

Osteopathic doctors are licensed physicians and can prescribe medication and perform surgery.

There are 26 colleges of osteopathic medical schools across the country with more than 20,000 students.

For now, ASU and the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation are not coordinating their efforts.

“This is not a competition thing … as far as I’m concerned,” said Fort Smith’s Parker. “We’re trying to do what’s in the best interest and welfare of this region that we serve.”

ASU is “happy” to work with any group about the proposed school, Hankins said. “The bottom line is that Arkansas needs more primary care physicians, and serving the Delta is our primary focus,” he said. “If two new medical schools emerge, then both would be producing more physicians and driving the state’s economy.”