Technical college part of the draw for medical colleges

May 25, 2012

From “Medical colleges target Fox Cities for expansion” — Appleton may be among a handful of cities across the state to land the first wave of expansions by medical colleges trying to cope with a projected physician shortage.

The city could learn next month whether months of discussions will lead to its selection by the Milwaukee-based Medical College of Wisconsin for one of two satellite campuses in the state. Appleton officials said the new campus could translate to 100 new jobs.

“We’re looking at eight possible sites,” said Maureen Mack, spokeswoman for the Medical College of Wisconsin. Green Bay, Eau Claire and La Crosse are among the cities also under consideration, along with Janesville/Beloit; Racine/Kenosha; central Wisconsin, including Marshfield, Stevens Point and Wausau; and northwestern Wisconsin.

She said the college’s board of trustees may make a decision on the location of the first two satellite campuses on June 22.

The Wisconsin College of Osteopathic Medicine, which has been looking at establishing a campus in Wausau, also is considering opening a campus in Appleton.

Karen Harkness, director of community development, said the city has been in talks with the college for about two years.

The college’s website says the Wisconsin College of Osteopathic Medicine continues to work with Wausau and Marathon County to open a campus there. A representative for the college declined to comment about whether it has expansion plans in Appleton.

Harkness said city leaders met with both schools because of the opportunity to bring new development and jobs to Appleton.

“We don’t know if the colleges would be located in the same city,” she said. “It was important to pursue both with the chance to get at least one.”

Favorable location

Dr. Mark Kehrberg, chief medical officer at Menasha-based Affinity Health System, which operates St. Elizabeth Hospital, said Appleton and the Fox Valley have amenities sought by the Medical College of Wisconsin, which is proposing an accelerated program for its satellite locations.

“I think there’s a good chance of having one of their (satellites) here in the Fox Valley,” said Kehrberg, who is familiar with the college’s expansion plans.

He said the Medical College of Wisconsin’s accelerated program would condense the time a student spends in medical school from four years to three. Students could complete some coursework at Lawrence University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh or Fox Valley Technical College to aid that process.

“In our case, those are the advantages we have,” Kehrberg said. “These schools all provide different levels of education that can enhance and benefit the experience of the medical students.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin’s program also would include some distance learning. Kehrberg said medical school can cost between $40,000 and $50,000 annually, so the college’s program, could reduce that cost by 25 percent.

Mack said proximity to other colleges will factor into her school’s decision.

“One reason we’re doing this is to limit having to raise tuition,” she said. “This model (involves students) training and living in the community where they are based and going to some of the local colleges to cut their costs.”

Scramble for physicians

Findings in a 2011 report from the Wisconsin Hospital Association show the state will face a severe physician shortage by 2030 if nothing is done. The report says the state needs to attract and retain at least 100 physicians annually to meet growing demand.

The findings served as a catalyst for private medical schools looking to expand. Mack said the goal is to have facilities in place to accommodate 100 new doctors entering residency programs annually, beginning in 2015 over a 20-year period, to avoid a physician shortage in the state.

The Medical College of Wisconsin plans to add satellite campuses beyond the two it will announce next month. The six sites that aren’t initially selected would remain in the running.

“Our hope is to expand further,” Mack said. “Our goal is that we would like to graduate 25 students a year out of these (satellites).”

Jessica Hancock, 28, of Elkhorn, supports providing more opportunities for people interested in practicing medicine. She is a first-year resident through the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program, part of the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW-Madison.

“I think expansion (of medical schools) to get more doctors into the system always is a good thing, especially when there’s talk of physician shortages,” said Hancock, who will spend time at hospitals operated by Affinity and ThedaCare as part of her residency.

Strategic planning

Medical professionals say getting more doctors into the system only considers part of the problem. The journey to become a family physician traditionally includes four years of undergraduate studies, followed by four years of medical school and a three-year residency. Specialists may require more education.

Expanding residency spots for medical students is imperative, says Brandon Boehm, 28, of Stevens Point, who is wrapping up his second year of residence through the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residence Program.

“I’m only looking in state for work and I do definitely want to stay in Wisconsin,” said Boehm, who has spent the past month at Appleton Medical Center. “A lot of residents do end up practicing where they do their residency.”

Kehrberg said Affinity, along with its parent, Ministry Health Care, is working on a plan to accommodate the influx of residents who likely would enter the program by 2015. The first students from the Medical College of Wisconsin’s satellite campuses would begin their residencies by 2018.

“The hope is there will be enough residency spots,” Kehrberg said.

Affinity and ThedaCare partner with the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program and have at least 18 residents working in their respective facilities annually.

Kehrberg said the Fox Valley’s higher learning and medical institutions have a good track record of collaboration.

“We have to make sure the support infrastructure is in place,” Kehrberg said. “Obviously, connections with UWO, Lawrence and Fox Valley Technical College, I suspect, will be key.”


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