Arkansas State Board Approves Partnership for Osteopathic School

The Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees approved a resolution Friday that would allow it to partner with the New York Institute of Technology for the development of an osteopathic medical school at the Jonesboro campus.

The NYIT Board of Trustees is expected to consider the partnership at its March 14 meeting. If approved, the entities will take steps with state agencies and the national accrediting board to seek approval for the medical school.

If all goes according to plan, students would begin enrolling at the school in August 2016, the university said.

The resolution comes less than a month after Arkansas State announced that study it commissioned showed an osteopathic medical school would help it meet demand for primary-care physicians in the Delta and inject $70 million into the region.

More: ASU Discusses Osteopathic Medical School with NYIT

"This project is important as part of our mission to serve the Delta and the State of Arkansas," Charles L. Welch, president of the system, said in a news release. 

Among other findings, the study — conducted by consulting firm Tripp Umbach of Pittsburgh — concluded there is a shortage of physicians in northeast Arkansas and the Delta that will only worsen when more than 25 percent of the state's physicians retire in the next five years. The study also found more doctors will be needed in northeast Arkansas and the Delta as more people gain access to health coverage under the health care reform.

"I can’t say enough good things about this project, the NYIT administration and the impact this medical school will have on transforming this institution and region," Welch said.

Not Alone

The Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation Board of Trustees has also voted to move ahead with plans for its own osteopathic medical school at the Chaffee Crossing development. The board recently approved more than $58 million to the project, and voted to create positions of college CEO and dean.

More: Another Osteopathic Medical School for Arkansas Under Consideration 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority donated 200 acres to the project. The Foundation hopes to open the school by fall 2017. The project is being supported by the Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association.

Residency Spots or Medical Schools?

In a February interview with Arkansas Business, Dan Rahn, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the state's only medical school, admitted there is a shortage of physicians in Arkansas with large parts of the state going underserved, but said the focus should be on adding residency slots instead of opening medical schools.

Rahn said there were 528 graduates nationwide in 2013 that did not find a residency program, which is a requirement for medical students to become a licensed doctor.

If the residency issue is not dealt with, Rahn said the state runs the risk of "educating new graduates within the state of Arkansas who aren’t actually going to contribute to solving the problems in Arkansas." 

The Umbach study agreed with Rahn's sentiment, listing the expansion of residency training as a need in the state.

"Arkansas State must work with state universities, hospitals, health centers, government entities and businesses to add residence positions statewide," the study said.

According to a 2010 study conducted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ for Rural Health, the state ranked 48th among states in physicians per capita. Currently, there are 30 osteopathic medical colleges in the country.

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