While the ultimate statewide benefits are cool enough on their own, the recently announced School of Community Medicine planned for the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa will also have more immediate local benefits as well.
"We already have an extensive network of clinics in town, but this will allow us to expand," Dr. Gerard Clancy, president of OU-Tulsa, told UTW.
Last week, Clancy, OU President David Boren and George Kaiser announced a $50 million gift from the George Kaiser Family Foundation to retool OU-Tulsa's College of Medicine as the "School of Community Medicine."
"Our state has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst health outcomes in the nation--a situation made worse by the enormous disparities that exist according to income and access to care," said Ken Levit, the Foundation's executive director.
Clancy said there is a national shortage of physicians on the order of 250,000, and that Oklahoma ranks 45th in the nation for the number of physicians per capita, with only 206 physicians per 100,000 people.
The national average is 278 per 100,000, and 2,554 are needed in Oklahoma to bring us up to par.
Currently, there are 7,301 physicians in the state.
The School will address those disparities by offering a curriculum focused on community-based medicine and by recruiting medical students whose interests lay in community medicine.
"Creating the OU School of Community Medicine will provide programs and scholarships which will guide medical students into areas of care which impact lower-income families and others who have limited access to quality medical care," said Boren.
"It will not concentrate on basic scientific research but on clinical outreach to those who desperately need care. It will also provide financial help to medical students who want to unselfishly dedicate themselves to underserved groups," he added.
"We will have a central theme of community engagement, and we will actively seek out students from across the country who plan to stay in Oklahoma to practice community medicine," said Clancy.
The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the number of physicians whose training specializes in direct care, and who are also "skilled in solving larger health problems in their communities," he said.
Boren also said the program will "in no way duplicate existing programs" of the OU College of Medicine.
Clancy emphasized that it will also be the first of its kind in the nation, and only the second of its kind in the world.
"We think what we're doing is pretty unique. After searching the nation and the world, we've not found anyone whose medical school is dealing with these issues," he told UTW.
The sole exception is a "School of Community Medicine" in New South Wales, Australia, he said.
Aspects of the program will kick off next fall, with a goal of 70 students enrolled per class by the fall of 2011.
When it's going full-speed, the program is expected to have 280 students, including 140 third- and fourth-year students.
Also, there will be 50 physician-assisted students, 251 resident and fellow physicians and 221 full-time faculty members.
At the moment, Tulsa's OU College of Medicine has 80 third- and fourth-year med students, with 201 residents and 186 faculty members.
While the ultimate goals are statewide, the program is particularly good news for Tulsa's underserved and uninsured population because, like all medical school programs, the students enrolled in the School of Community Medicine will learn by doing.
Clancy said OU's med school clinics already have about 250,000 patient visits per year, about a quarter of which are uninsured and half of which are on Medicaid.
He expects the new program to increase that capacity by at least 100,000 per year.
About a year ago, Clancy, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences president John Fernandes and members of Step Up Tulsa announced plans to improve access to health care in Tulsa by construction of new "healthplexes" on the north, east and west sides of the city, where health status indicators are significantly inferior than those of south Tulsa and Midtown.
Following last week's announcement, Clancy told UTW that the north Tulsa Healthplex will be one of the new School of Community Medicine's primary training sites.
He said he expects the doors to open on the new facility in about two years.
In the meantime, Kaiser's $50 million gift will be staged and funded according to benchmarks, like enrollment goals, agreed upon between OU and the Foundation.
Start-up costs, such as faculty recruitment and infrastructure development, will run about $7.5 million.
Another $7.5 million of the donation will go toward a scholarship and loan forgiveness program, and $35 million will go to endow 35 faculty chairs in the new program.
"We are deeply grateful to George Kaiser and the Foundation for this gift, which will truly make a difference in the lives of Oklahomans for years to come," said Boren.
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