Icon (Close Menu)


Arkansas Osteopathic Colleges Line Up StudentsLock Icon

5 min read

The two new osteopathic medical schools in Arkansas are being flooded with applications from students who want to be doctors.

The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith received nearly 4,000 applications for the 150 open seats for classes that start next month, marking the school’s second year.

On the other side of the state, the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro also has “significantly more applications than we do have seats,” said Dr. Shane Speights, the dean of the school, which now has 240 students with another 120 students starting in August for its third year of the four-year program. Next year, it will add another 120 students, bringing the total to 480.

The number of applications both schools are receiving doesn’t surprise Dr. Stephen C. Shannon, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Across the country, the 34 osteopathic schools with 51 locations are receiving about three applications for every open seat at the schools, he said.

“There is a significant demand for entry into medical schools in general, and osteopathic medical school specifically,” Shannon said.

The push toward getting more osteopathic doctors is welcomed despite some concern that residency spots for the graduates may be lacking.

The United States is expected to see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, according to an April news release from the Association of American Medical Colleges. And by 2030, the study projects a shortfall of between 14,800 and 49,300 primary care physicians.

“With the additional demand from a population that will not only continue to grow but also age considerably over the next 12 years, we must start training more doctors now to meet the needs of our patients in the future,” Dr. Darrell Kirch, AAMC president and CEO, said in a statement.

Arkansas is big enough to support the two osteopathic medical schools, said Dr. Boyd Buser, the immediate past president of the American Osteopathic Association and dean of the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I don’t see Arkansas suddenly being saturated from having an oversupply of physicians,” he said.

When states want to create more primary care doctors they’re drawn to osteopathic colleges “because we have the track record of producing primary care doctors,” Buser said.

Schools Boast Additions
Meanwhile, both schools are expanding.

The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education of Fort Smith, which operates the osteopathic school, recently started construction on a $25 million, 66,000-SF building that will offer doctoral degrees in physical therapy and occupational therapy and house a physician’s assistant school, said Kyle Parker, president and CEO of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. The building is expected to open in 2020.

Speights said the Jonesboro school recently received an $830,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy a motor home-type vehicle that will be customized to include two examination rooms and that will travel to communities in the Delta.

The mobile unit is expected to reach the campus in September or October and will be used to “help raise awareness and raise health care in these needed areas,” Speights said. “We fully expect to continue to expand and grow these types of initiatives to better the care for Arkansans.”

Economic Boost
The opening of the osteopathic schools has been an economic boost for both cities.

“Anytime you open up a professional school in a community, particularly a small or middle-sized community, you’re going to see a significant economic impact in that community,” Buser said.

Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the NYIT school’s Jonesboro campus has “had a significant impact on the community. … And the outreach programs that they have started I think will be significant as we move forward.”

Parker said that a recent economic impact study showed the Fort Smith college had an economic impact of about $100 million annually. That sum doesn’t include the students who will arrive after the new building opens in two years. The general contractor on that project is Beshears Construction Inc. of Fort Smith and the architect is Tim A. Risley & Associates of Fort Smith.

NYIT’s first graduating class at its Jonesboro location is scheduled for 2020. The hope is to keep the new doctors in the Delta when they finish their residencies, which doctors must complete before they can practice medicine.

When classes start in August, NYIT’s third-year students will be working with physicians in clinics and hospitals in about 15 to 20 cities in Arkansas. The move is an effort to encourage students to stay in those cities when they become licensed doctors, Speights said.

“The plan is to have them work side by side with community-based physicians as they get exposure to that,” he said. “Those are the areas in Arkansas that we really need physicians.”

Fort Smith
One of the reasons the Fort Smith osteopathic school attracted so many applications is its comparatively low tuition of $43,000 a year, Parker said, one of the lowest in the country for a medical school. The annual tuition at NYIT’s Jonesboro campus is $57,000.

In addition, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine students see patients starting in their first year, Parker said. “We not only want you to understand the foundations of medicine,” he said. “We want you to know the practical application of medicine as well.”

The first class of students will graduate in 2021.

Residency Slots
Having enough residency spots is a concern for Shannon, of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

In March, medical school students and graduates throughout the United States learned which residency programs they will train at for the next three to seven years. A record 37,103 students applied for 33,167 positions, the most ever offered in the match program, according to a news release from the National Resident Matching Program of Washington.

Shannon said osteopathic colleges, however, have been able to match 99 percent of their graduates to a residency program.

And in order to receive accreditation, both of the osteopathic colleges in Arkansas worked with hospitals to secure more residency spots.

Most recently, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, known as ARCOM, announced in February a partnership with CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs to develop new undergraduate medical education and graduate medical education training opportunities for ARCOM students and graduates. CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs expects to start the residencies in both family practice and internal medicine in 2020.

The NYIT’s Jonesboro location also worked with hospitals to develop residency programs. NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro will start its first internal medicine residency this month and is expected to start a family medicine residency within the next two years.

Speights said he’s not concerned about graduates from his school finding residencies, but hopes they stay in Arkansas or the Delta.

Parker said the hospital decides which graduate students it takes for the residency program. He said it doesn’t matter what medical school the students attended as long as they practice in Arkansas.

“It’s pretty easy to say we’re underserved,” he said. “There’s not enough physicians for people needing access to health care.”

Send this to a friend