Gaudet: Whole Health's Medical School Will Be 'First of Its Kind'

Gaudet: Whole Health's Medical School Will Be 'First of Its Kind'
A rendering of the west view of the Whole Health Institute building in Bentonville, which is set for an April groundbreaking. Executive Director Dr. Tracy Gaudet says the institute's School of Medicine is in its "foundational planning" stage. (Marlon Blackwell Architects)

The director of Alice Walton's nonprofit Whole Health Institute says its School of Medicine in Bentonville will be the first of its kind, making a holistic approach to health care foundational to the medical school's curriculum.

Dr. Tracy Gaudet, the executive director of the Whole Health Institute, told Arkansas Business on Thursday that while other medical schools have tried to teach whole-health concepts, they've only been able to fit in "bits and pieces."

"Many medical schools and osteopathic schools have been trying to integrate these concepts because we know it is the best approach to health and well being," Gaudet said. "The challenge in existing medical school curricula is it is so packed already."

Walton and the Whole Health Institute announced plans for the Whole Health School of Medicine on Thursday. In a news release, Walton described the school as a "reimagination of American medical education" that will incorporate "mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health, the elements of Whole Health, to help people live healthier and happier lives."

The institute did not say where exactly where it would put the school, but said it plans to break ground on "a new state-of-the-art education and training facility in Bentonville" in 2022. It aims to enroll its first class in the fall of 2024. It said it will seek accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

The institute did not reveal a total price tag for the project.

The impetus for the school sprang from a 2019 report from the Northwest Arkansas Council that showed the region was losing as much as $1 billion in possible medical services annually from people seeking care elsewhere. The council created its Health Care Transformation Division and named Ryan Cork as its executive director in response. 

"The northwest Arkansas community has identified the need for a school of medicine back in 2019," Gaudet said. "The idea for this came from the community, not from me or the institute or from Alice. We thought, 'Wow we could work together on that. We could help make that vision a reality.' "

Gaudet said the institute and school officials — three leaders of the medical school have already started work — are still in "foundational planning" about the specifics of the school. She said the planning and research would determine such facts as how many students in the initial class, how much the project will cost or what tuition will be. 

The school's program will be allopathic, meaning graduates will receive a doctor of medicine degree. The difference, said Gaudet, who is a doctor herself, is that the school would incorporate the whole health concept in the curriculum.

That curriculum "will infuse traditional and conventional medicine with integrative techniques and will include biomedical sciences, clinical training, medical entrepreneurship, research, and a capstone with Whole Health principles ingrained throughout," according to the institute.

Gaudet called whole health a "broader paradigm" that incorporates self care, the importance of managing health factors such as stress and nutrition.

The medical school project is related to the billionaire Walmart heir's Whole Health Institute, a multimillion-dollar center for holistic wellness also planned for Bentonville. Walton and her architect, Marlon Blackwell of Fayetteville, are scheduled to break ground next month on the institute's 75,000-SF multiuse office and community space on the campus of Walton's earlier pet project, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

"The creation of the Whole Health School of Medicine is a step forward in rethinking systems in our society to achieve better health and well-being," Gaudet said.

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