Barbara Ross-Lee: Arkansas Can Support 3 Medical Schools

Barbara Ross-Lee: Arkansas Can Support 3 Medical Schools
Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee speaks to the Little Rock Rotary Club. (Sarah Campbell)

Arkansas "absolutely, positively" needs doctors and can sustain three medical schools, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee told the Little Rock Rotary Club on Tuesday.

Ross-Lee is vice president and founding dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The college enrolled its first class of 120 students in August.

"The problem is bigger than one school can solve … I come from states that have many more medical schools, and they're doing OK, and they still have shortages," Ross-Lee said.

Arkansas will soon have three medical schools: NYIT in Jonesboro; the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith, which is set to open this fall; and the long-established University of Arkansas For Medical Sciences in Little Rock. 

Ross-Lee said the fact that the schools are in different areas of the state will help them thrive.

Ross-Lee said osteopathic education is growing nationwide to meet "great demand." There are 33 colleges in the country, and 48 sites in 31 states, she said.

"Those are yesterday's numbers," she said. "Once a week, I check."

About one in every four physicians-in-training are attending an osteopathic school, she said, adding that the only difference between osteopathic and allopathic education is the philosophy behind them.

The education they provide are of the same quality, she said. An osteopathic physician — a D.O. — and an allopathic physician — an M.D. — must also satisfy the same licensure requirements and have the same average MCAT scores and GPAs when they are admitted to medical school.

But osteopathic physicians, she said, learn a holistic and hands-on approach to treating patients. Though osteopathic physicians can pursue any speciality, its philosophy most complements primary care disciplines like pediatrics, family medicine and general internal medicine, she said.

Osteopathic schools also focus on using smaller hospitals rather than large teaching hospitals for residency training.

Ross-Lee called the college at A-State "high tech and high touch," with laboratories and lecture classes. She added that the New York Institute is the the only college in the country using telemedicine to teach first- and second-year students.   

Ross-Lee said the goal of the A-State site is to produce physicians who will practice medicine in Arkansas and the Delta. Forty-eight percent of the school's first class is from Arkansas; 96 percent is from the Delta.

The school is vetting applications for its second class. It already has enough to fill 115 seats, and it has a waiting list of another 100 students. At this point, she said, half are from Arkansas and 70 percent are from the Delta. 

The school has partnered with 23 hospitals to provide its students with residency training in communities throughout Arkansas, Ross-Lee said, and it's developing a pipeline by encouraging high school students to pursue careers in the medical field.

Ross Lee is wrapping up her time as founding dean of the NYIT site at A-State. Her successor, Dr. Shane Speights, was announced last month. Speights is an osteopath and family practitioner in Jonesboro who was involved in bringing the NYIT college to ASU.

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