New Medical School Hopes to Address Primary Care Shortage
November 3, 2011 -- A single building across the highway from Lebanon Samaritan Medical Center houses Oregon's newest medical school.
Called COMP Northwest (short for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific), the school is a campus of Western University of Health Sciences based in Pomona, Calif.
The school recently opened its doors to 107 first-year students. Officials purposely chose a rural setting, said Dr. Paula Crone, an osteopathic physician and the associate dean, in the hope that graduates will practice in rural areas.
When Crone graduated from medical school in 1992, about 60 to 80 percent chose a primary care practice, while today the average is closer to 40 percent. She anticipates that number will be higher among COMP Northwest graduates. “I think those students who choose to come to Lebanon, Oregon are going to choose family practice.”
Among the new students, Kody Seeley grew up in a rural ranching community in Colorado, and has seen “both the good and the bad of working in rural medicine.” He holds two bachelor's degrees – one in biology and one in psychology – and was drawn to osteopathic medicine because osteopathic doctors take a holistic approach to working with patients.
Maha Abdulla was a public health microbiologist before deciding to enter medical school and is interested in cranial manipulations, after seeing the impact on patients suffering from chronic pain. She’s also intrigued with genetic and global research, and was encouraged to pursue such a direction during her interview with faculty at COMP-Northwest.
The students also participate in an inter-professional education program with their colleagues from Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College where they discuss patient cases from different perspectives – for instance, a child's visit to a dentist's office, where the provider discovers she has a different illness. They work in small groups along with students in pharmacy, veterinary medicine, public health and nursing.
By the time they graduate, they’re likely to owe $200,000 – which is slightly higher than the average student’s debt of $170,000 at Oregon Health & Science University.
According to a report published by the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2006, the median debt burden for graduates of public medical institutions is $119,000, while private school graduates face a debt of nearly $150,000. The report also notes that medical education debt was 4.5 times as high in 2003 as it was in 1984.
“In my opinion, this first generation of medical students have no idea what medicine is going to look like,” said Crone, due to rapid economic and political changes that make it unclear what opportunities will be available when they graduate and as they continue their practice.
Osteopathic medicine was founded in the 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still, who was deeply critical of the medical establishment and whose practice focused on manipulation of bones and joints. The profession has changed over time and osteopathic physicians have the same privileges as medical doctors, though their emphasis on holistic care and primary care remains.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine website is here.